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'Gay panic' defence could soon be scrapped in New Jersey

The bill allows murder charges to be downgraded to manslaughter if the killing was in responses to an unwanted sexual advance

2020-01-14

Words: Steve Brown

The ‘gay panic defence’ could soon be scrapped in New Jersey.

For years, lawyers have introduced the idea that people accused of crimes against the LGBTQ community justified their actions through the legal strategy known as the ‘gay’ or ‘transgender panic’.

The defence allows murder charges to be downgraded to manslaughter if the killing was in responses to an unwanted sexual advance.

Last year, both New York and Hawaii states banned the archaic defence and yesterday (January 13), New Jersey’s state Assembly voted 76-0 to give final legislative passage to a bill banning the defence.

“The ‘gay panic or trans panic’ defence is not a freestanding defence to criminal liability, but rather a legal tactic,” the bill’s sponsor, Assemblyman John McKeon, D- Essex, said in a statement.

“It’s used to diminish the reason for a defendant’s violent reaction that asks a jury to find a victim’s sexual orientation or gender/expression as the cause.

“Whether the person was gay, transgender or heterosexual, sexual orientation should not have any bearing on determining a person’s guilt in a murder trial."

The bill will now head to Governor Phil Murphy, who will decide whether to sign it into law or veto it by January 21.

Those convicted of a “heat of passion provocation" manslaughter would face five to 10 years of imprisonment and a fine of up to $150,000.

A murder conviction carries 30 years to life in prison and a $200,000 fine.