TRENTON, N.J. - New Jersey on Tuesday became the ninth state to prohibit homicide defendants from claiming that panic brought on by a victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity could be used a legal defense.
Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy signed the measure, saying it promotes “full equality for all our residents.”
“Gay and trans panic defenses are rooted in homophobia and abhorrent excuses that should never be used to justify violence against vulnerable populations,” Murphy said in a statement.
The defense amounts to arguing that a gay or transgender victim brought the attack on themselves because of their orientation or identity, the bill’s supporters said.
Typically, defendants argue that a proposition from a gay or transgender person triggered a breakdown that leads to an attack, or that an advance amounted to provocation.
The maneuver goes back to a 1954 Florida case in which a defendant claimed that a gay man’s advances justified shooting the victim, according to the American Bar Association. It’s unclear how many defendants used the defense in New Jersey.
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D’Arcy Kemnitz, the executive director of the LGBT Bar Association, said data on the use of the defense is lacking. But she added that the association pushes lawmakers to adopt laws like New Jersey’s so that future victims don’t have their identities used against them in court.
At least five other states and Washington, D.C., have proposed similar legislation, according to the association.
The defense has been prohibited in eight states: California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Nevada, New York and Rhode Island.
Supporters of the law say the gay or trans panic defense plays on jurors’ perceived fears or prejudices.
“If every time a woman was propositioned and shot someone — we just don’t allow that to happen in our society,” Kemnitz said. “A gay man who’s making a pass, does that person deserve to be harmed? Does that person deserve to be killed?”
The legislation passed through the Democratic-led Assembly and Senate unanimously.
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