New York state lawmakers passed a bill yesterday that prohibits the use of “gay panic” or “trans panic” defenses in criminal murder trials.
Under the current law, criminal defendants had the ability to argue that their responsibility for an alleged crime was mitigated by the fact that finding out someone was LGBTQ caused them to have an uncontrollable emotional reaction (aka they had a “gay panic”). Under the new legislation, “a non-violent sexual advance or the discovery of a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity does not constitute a ‘reasonable explanation or excuse.'”
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo tweeted about the passage of the bill on Wednesday, saying that it was “an important win for LGBTQ people everywhere.”
The ban on the 'gay and trans panic' legal defense just passed!
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. pic.twitter.com/xMpXZfvnDT
— Andrew Cuomo (@NYGovCuomo) June 19, 2019
Glennda Testone, the executive director of New York LGBT Community Center, told The Hill that the bill was a welcome change.
“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,” said Testone. “This legislation makes it clear that homophobia and transphobia cannot be used in our courts to justify discriminatory violence.”
There is some concern that the bill could limit due process rights in criminal defense cases. Several New York-based criminal defense organizations opposed the legislation due to a risk of the ban interfering with an accused person’s constitutional right to defend themselves. Alice Fontier, director of the criminal defense practice of the Bronx Defenders, told The New York Times that their agency was “absolutely opposed” to limiting defenses available in court, because it could negatively affect someone’s right to a fair trial.
The American Bar Association formally called on governments to end the use of panic defenses in 2013, and the issue has gained momentum since that time. New York is the seventh state to ban this type of defense, and several other states are considering the ban this year.