California bill would ban "gay panic" defense for murder defendants

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Assemblywoman Susan A. Bonilla and Equality California are partnering to introduce legislation to end the use of the "gay panic" or "trans panic" defense strategy.

The tactic is used by defendants charged with murder who attempt to mitigate their crimes by claiming their violent acts were triggered by the victim's sexual orientation or gender identity.

There have been several high-profile cases over the past 10 years where "gay panic" defenses were used, including the murders of LGBT teens Gwen Araujo in Newark, Calif. and Larry King in Oxnard, Calif.

This month, a murder suspect who has confessed to killing a Texas Christian University student in Fort Worth is employing a "gay panic" defense.

"It is an outrage to allow the use of panic defenses and in doing so blame the victims of horrific acts of violence," said John O'Connor, executive director of EQCA. "Homophobia and transphobia have no place in California's justice system."

"This is 2014! We as a society are moving rapidly away from the hate, bias and prejudice against people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender," Assemblymember Bonilla said. "It is shocking to know that criminal defendants are encouraged by their counsel to employ this so-called 'gay panic' or 'trans panic' defense in order to receive a possible lesser sentence for murdering an individual just because of their sexual orientation or gender identity."

AB 2501 would modify the existing definition of "voluntary manslaughter" to prohibit defendants from contending that they were provoked to murder by discovering the victim's sexual orientation or gender identity. Similar legislation was attempted in 2005 in the California Legislature but was substantially amended to only require the court to instruct the jury that their verdict should not be influenced by bias against a victim.

AB 2501 will be heard in a policy committee hearing later this spring.

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