Metro Weekly

New York lawmakers approve bill banning gay and trans panic defense

Bill prohibits defendants from attempting to justify violent crimes committed against LGBTQ people

New York State Capitol Building – Photo: Einar Einarsson Kvaran, via Wikimedia.

New York state lawmakers have passed a bill prohibiting the use of gay and trans “panic” defenses by criminal defendants accused of serious violent crimes.

The bill targets the use of a victim’s sexual orientation, sex, gender, gender identity, gender expression, or sex assigned at birth as an affirmative defense.

Typically, defendants that have employed the use of gay or trans panic defenses claim they were so shocked, frightened, or unable to control their emotions after discovering a victim’s identity that they were justified in assaulting, injuring, or even killing the victim.

Such defenses do not mean defendants are not criminally liable, but are used in the hope of obtaining a plea deal or conviction on lesser charges.

Examples of cases involving LGBTQ victims where defendants attempted to use panic as an affirmative defense include the murders of Matthew Shepard, Gwen Araujo, Ahmed Dabarran, and Angie Zapata.

The bill passed the Assembly and State Senate, and now heads to the desk of Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), who’s expected to sign it into law.

Once it is signed, New York will become the sixth state to pass such a bill, following California, Illinois, Rhode Island, Nevada, and Connecticut.

Cuomo praised the bill’s passage in a tweet, writing: “With the enactment of this measure we are sending this noxious legal defense strategy to the dustbin of history where it belongs. This is an important win for LGBTQ people everywhere.”

The National LGBT Bar Association praised the bill’s passage.

“As one of the nation’s leading expert on this issue, the LGBT Bar is proud to see the passage of this legislation,” the organization said in a statement. “Our organization has worked to ban such defenses for over a decade and was instrumental in the passage of the 2013 American Bar Association Resolution calling for an end to this practice in court…. The LGBT Bar thanks Gov. Andrew Cuomo for his staunch support of A8375, and we look forward to him signing this crucial legislation into law.”

Glennda Testone, the executive director of New York City’s LGBT Community Center, also issued a statement praising the bill’s passage.

“The Center wholeheartedly applauds New York State lawmakers for passing a ban on the gay/trans ‘panic’ defense, ensuring that LGBTQ New Yorkers who are victims of hate crimes will no longer be blamed for the violence committed against them,” Testone said. “This legislation makes it clear that homophobia and transphobia cannot be used in our courts to justify discriminatory violence.

“The gay/transpanic’ defense has been a legal strategy used in criminal cases where a defendant claims that finding out a person’s actual or assumed sexual orientation or gender identity caused an ‘extreme emotional disturbance’ that led them to violently attack that person,” Testone added. “It plays into harmful stereotypes, insinuating that it’s reasonable or justifiable to attack or murder an LGBTQ person simply because of who they are. … The significance of this victory in New York will help advocates build momentum across the country until this abhorrent practice ends everywhere, once and for all.”

John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com

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