Today, the New Jersey General Assembly advanced legislation to ban the gay and trans “panic” defense by a unanimous vote, setting New Jersey on the path to become the sixth state to prohibit the practice this year and the ninth in the nation.
“No one should ever be excused from murder because their victim is gay or transgender, and New Jersey must send an unequivocal message that we fully value the lives and dignity of LGBTQ people,” said Christian Fuscarino, executive director for Garden State Equality. “The Assembly’s vote today to advance a ban on the gay and trans “panic” defense is a significant step forward, but at a time when LGBTQ people — especially transgender Americans — have been victim to an increasing number of hate crimes, we must ensure that this legislation quickly moves through the Senate so Governor Murphy can sign it into law.”
“I am so pleased to see the Assembly pass today’s important vote to protect LGBTQ New Jerseyans,” said Senator Vin Gopal, primary Senate sponsor of the bill. “Senator Lagana and I urge the Senate to pass this bill before 2020. We have reached out to the Judiciary Chair to get it posted at the next committee hearing.”
In 2019, at least 30 transgender Americans have been reported killed. The FBI reports that hate crimes in New Jersey have increased for the third consecutive year, with LGBTQ people making up a disproportionate amount of victims. Last week, Governor Phil Murphy and Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal announced policy changes for law enforcement to protect LGBTQ New Jerseyans following the Transgender Equality Task Force’s final report and reccomendations.
The “panic” defense ban legislation was unanimously approved in the Assembly Judiciary Committee on Monday, November 18, where Garden State Equality board member Thomas Prol, Esq., testified. The bill will now advance to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Garden State Equality hopes to have the bill on Governor Murphy’s desk and signed before the end of the year.
The gay and trans “panic” defense is a legal strategy which asks a jury to find that a victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity is to blame for the defendant’s violent reaction, including murder. When the defense is employed, the perpetrator claims that their victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity not only explain — but excuse — their loss of self-control and subsequent assault. The legislation would prevent a murder charge in such a case from being reduced or acquitted.
Gay and trans “panic” defenses have been used to acquit dozens of murderers of their crimes. Even in instances where juries are instructed not to listen to gay and trans “panic” defenses, the implicit homophobic or transphobic bias of hearing the defense at all can still influence the jury’s decision.
In 2019, five states have outlawed the “panic” defense, including Maine, New York, Hawaii, Nevada, and Connecticut. Three other states have previously outlawed the discriminatory legal strategy: California (2014), Illinois (2017), and Rhode Island (2018).
Former Assemblymen Tim Eustace and Reed Gusciora initially introduced and sponsored legislation in 2014-2015 to ban the “panic” defense. Current legislation, A1796 / S2609, is sponsored in the Assembly by Joann Downey, John Burzichelli, Valerie Huttle, Marlene Caride, Pamela Lampitt, and John McKeon.
Senate sponsors are Joseph Lagana, Vin Gopal, and Troy Singleton.