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Gay panic defense tossed by California Assembly

It’s a tactic that rarely wins, but the fact that it has been legally acceptable to attempt to mitigate violent criminal acts using a defendant’s homophobia is the reason this ludicrous excuse of a defense should be taken off the table. (365gay):

The California Assembly late Thursday passed legislation to limit the use of the so-called gay panic defense.

If a defense attorney attempted to use the argument that a client committed a crime out of panic because the victim were gay or trans a judge would be required to instruct the jury that the use of societal bias, including so-called “panic strategies,” to influence the proceedings of a criminal trial is inconsistent with the public policy of the State of California.

The Gwen Araujo Justice for Victims Act passed the Assembly on a 45 – 32 vote along party lines. Two members did not vote and 1 member was absent. The bill now moves to the Senate.

Araujo was only age 17.

Araujo was a transgender teenager from Newark, Calif., who was attacked and killed in 2002. Defense lawyers in the trials of her killers claimed their clients acted out of panic after having sex with the teen and then discovering she was born biologically male.

The Assembly bill was authored by Assemblywoman Sally J. Lieber (D-San Jose). “This is a critical step forward in the effort to rid our courtrooms of bias,” said Lieber following the vote. “We must ensure that California’s criminal justice system treats all victims equally.”

The first Araujo trial ended in mistrial, after seemingly endless use of this defense. The second trial resulted in the conviction of two men (second-degree murder) and a third plead out to voluntary manslaughter.

* Wikipedia entry for Araujo and gay panic defense.

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding