Legislation to prohibit reduced murder charge against LGBTQ victims heads to NJ Senate
Today, the New Jersey Senate Judiciary Committee advanced legislation to ban the gay and trans “panic” defense with wide bipartisan support, setting New Jersey on the path to become the sixth state to prohibit the practice this year and the ninth in the nation. A single Senator abstained during the vote.
“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. “We’re grateful to Chairman Scutari and the Senate Judiciary Committee for standing on the side of justice and decisively supporting a ban on the ‘panic’ defense, and we will be pushing forward to get our bill through the Senate and onto Governor Murphy’s desk this year.”
Garden State Equality board member Thomas Prol, testified before the NJ Senate Judiciary Committee this afternoon, “It is time for New Jersey to get on the right side of history and join our sister states in prohibiting the gay and trans ‘panic’ defense. This legally sanctioned discrimination only serves to legitimize and excuse violent, lethal behavior against the LGBTQ community.”
The “panic” defense ban legislation passed in the Assembly with a unanimous vote on November 25. Garden State Equality hopes to have the bill on Governor Murphy’s desk and signed before the end of the year.
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 month, 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 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 Senate by Joseph Lagana, Vin Gopal, Troy Singleton, and Loretta Weinberg.