The American Bar Association’s Criminal Justice Section has taken up a resolution to protect victims of so called gay and trans “panic” legal defenses. The resolution supports the LGBT community by no longer allowing defense attorneys to use victims’ identities or their sexual orientation against them in court.
“This resolution puts an end to a longstanding injustice in our legal system and gives a voice to countless lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender victims of violence, a voice we never hear because they are no longer here to speak for themselves,” said D’Arcy Kemnitz, executive director of the National LGBT Bar Association.
Gay and trans “panic” defense tactics ask a jury to find that a victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity is to blame for the defendant’s excessively violent reaction. The perpetrator, according to the association, claims that the victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity not only explain – but excuse – his or her loss of self-control and subsequent assault of an LGBT individual. By fully or partially acquitting the perpetrators of crimes against LGBT victims, these defenses imply that LGBT lives are worth less than others, said the LGBT bar.
The two men who nearly 15 years ago murdered Matthew Shepard, a 21 year old college student in Wyoming, tried to use a panic defense.
The LGBT bar said the defense is still being used today, most recently in connection with the February murder of Mississippi mayoral candidate Marco McMillian. McMillian was the state’s first openly gay candidate for office. Lawrence Reed, the man who admitted to killing McMillian, has made comments to the press indicating that he might use the gay panic defense to mitigate the charges against him.
“We have been fighting against gay and trans panic defenses for more than 15 years,” said Kemnitz. “We must protect the LGBT community by refusing to allow defendants to use a victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity to justify their heinous crimes.”
The National LGBT Bar Association developed the resolution, calling for jury instruction and providing for training for judges, attorneys and juries geared toward supporting victims by minimizing the use of the gay and trans “panic” legal defenses.
The ABA House of Delegates must pass the resolution at the 2013 ABA Annual Meeting in August for the recommendations to become official ABA policy.