(Sacramento) Assemblywoman Susan A. Bonilla and Equality California announced today that they are partnering to introduce legislation to end the use of the "gay panic" or "trans panic" defense strategy – a tactic used by defendants charged with murder to attempt to mitigate their crimes by claiming their violent acts were triggered by the victim's sexual orientation or gender identity.
"It is an outrage to allow the use of panic defenses and in doing so blame the victims of horrific acts of violence," said John O'Connor, executive director of EQCA. "Homophobia and transphobia have no place in California's justice system."
"This is 2014! We as a society are moving rapidly away from the hate, bias and prejudice against people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender," said Assemblymember Bonilla. "It is shocking to know that criminal defendants are encouraged by their counsel to employ this so-called 'gay panic' or 'trans panic' defense in order to receive a possible lesser sentence for murdering an individual just because of their sexual orientation or gender identity."
AB 2501 would modify the existing definition of "voluntary manslaughter" to prohibit defendants from contending that they were provoked to murder by discovering the victim's sexual orientation or gender identity. Similar legislation was attempted in 2005 in the California Legislature but was substantially amended to only require the court to instruct the jury that their verdict should not be influenced by bias against a victim.
There have been several high-profile cases over the past ten years where panic defenses were used, including the murders of LGBT teens Gwen Araujo in Newark, California and Larry King in Oxnard, California.
AB 2501 will be heard in a policy committee hearing later this spring.
Equality California (EQCA) is the largest statewide lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender advocacy organization in California. Over the past decade, Equality California has strategically moved California from a state with extremely limited legal protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people to a state with some of the most comprehensive human rights protections in the nation. Equality California has partnered with legislators to successfully sponsor 96 pieces of pro-equality legislation. EQCA continues to advance equality through legislative advocacy, electoral work, public education and community empowerment. www.eqca.org