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New Jersey Governor Signs Bill Banning ‘Gay Panic’ Defense In State Court Cases

A controversial defense strategy utilized by accused assailants who have attacked or murdered members of the LGBTQ community based on their gay or trans statuses will no longer be allowed in court cases within the state of New Jersey.

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So-called “gay panic” or “LGBTQ panic” defenses have been around since the 1960s, reporting from the New York Times has detailed, though they have been used with less frequency as attitudes have changed over the years.

Nevertheless, the defense strategy remains in practice for some defense attorneys — including for those whose clients have been charged with murder.

The defense strategy asks jurors or judges to consider, in instances where an LGBTQ individual as been attacked or killed, to consider whether the accused’s action occurred because of the victim’s perceived gay or trans status. In other words, the defense suggests to the jury that their client may have been “provoked” into committing their crime due to the other person being gay, for example.

Several human rights organizations condemn the strategy because it essentially implies an LGBTQ person’s life has less meaning, and justifies, in the eyes of the law, the aggressor’s criminal behavior.

In New Jersey in particular, a defendant can argue that their crime happened in the “heat of the moment,” a legal term that allows for more lenient sentencing guidelines of 5 to 10 years in prison, versus 30 years in prison or more for standard murder charges, NJ.com reported.

Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat, signed the bill into law on Tuesday.

“We will always stand with our LGBTQ+ community and promote full equality for all our residents,” Murphy said.

He added:

“Gay and trans panic defenses are rooted in homophobia and abhorrent excuses that should never be used to justify violence against vulnerable populations. With this new law, we are enacting critical measures to protect our friends and neighbors in the LGBTQ+ community.”