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Gov. Phil Murphy. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for New Jersey Globe)

Murphy signs bill barring gay panic defense

Tactic used to reduce murder charges legally banned

By Nikita Biryukov, January 21 2020 11:33 am

Gov. Phil Murphy signed a bill banning gay or trans panic defenses for homicide charges Tuesday.

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

The gay and trans panic defenses are legal strategies that seek to blame a victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity as the driver for a violent act. In cases involving homicide, the defense is used to reduce the charge from murder to manslaughter.

The latter crime carries a penalty of up to 10 years imprisonment, while murder can result in a life sentence.

“Gay and trans panic defenses, which reduce the punishment for horrible crimes, amount to legal malpractice and cannot be allowed to stand,” State Sen. Joe Lagana said. “Discrimination of any kind has no place in New Jersey, and we will to fight for all of our residents, especially during this period of increased discrimination, to ensure that our state is safe for everyone.”

Lagana, along with State Sen. Vin Gopal and Assembly members John Mckeon and Joann Downey, sponsored the bill, which passed with support from the state’s LGBT advocacy groups.

New Jersey is the eighth state in the union to bar the gay panic defense. The state’s ban went into effect immediately.

“Make no mistake, the ‘panic’ defense is flat-out discriminatory legal malpractice, and no one should ever be excused from murder because their victim is gay or transgender,” said Christian Fuscarino, Executive Director for Garden State Equality. “As hate crimes against LGBTQ New Jerseyans continue to rise and trans people are murdered across the nation, it’s more imperative than ever that we ensure our criminal justice system protects LGBTQ people equally — full stop.”

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