LGBTQ “panic” defenses have long been a controversial part of the legal system. It effectively absolves blame from the perpetrator of a crime and places it on the victim instead. Luckily, these kinds of defenses are slowly but surely being banned across the country.
According to NBC News, New Jersey’s Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy signed a bill on Tuesday banning the use of LGBTQ panic defenses in court cases. Murphy wrote in a statement “Gay and Trans panic defenses are rooted in homophobia and abhorrent excuses that should never be used to justify violence against vulnerable populations.” With the signing of this bill, New Jersey has become the ninth state to outlaw such defenses behind Hawaii, California, Nevada, Illinois, New York, Connecticut, Maine, and Rhode Island. California was the first to ban the practice in 2014 and last year alone six more states would join them.
The LGBT bar defines the LGBTQ+ panic defense as:
a legal strategy that asks a jury to find that a victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity/expression is to blame for a defendant’s violent reaction, including murder. It is not a free-standing defense to criminal liability, but rather a legal tactic used to bolster other defenses. When a perpetrator uses an LGBTQ+ panic defense, they are claiming that a victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity not only explains—but excuses—a loss of self-control and the subsequent assault.
They go on to explain that the defense is used in three different ways: insanity/diminished capacity, provocation, and self-defense. It’s a legal strategy that could most simply be boiled down to: “Well it was their fault for not being straight or cis.” The fact that it is only now being banned says quite a bit about our legal system.
The utilization of such defenses isn’t common but a 2016 report by the Williams Institute at UCLA Law shows that the strategy has been employed in about one-half of the states since the 1960s. Efforts to ban the strategy nationwide have been ongoing and in 2018 Democratic members brought forth a bill that would ban it in federal court. The bill passed through the House but wouldn’t advance through the Senate when Majority Leader and Gamahiro cosplayer Mitch McConnell refused to bring it up for a vote.