The American Bar Association has adopted a policy against the use of the so-called “gay panic” defense.
The ABA, which has 400,000 members and is the largest volunteer professional organization in the world, adopted the policy at its annual meeting, held earlier this month in San Francisco.
The policy states:
“RESOLVED, That the American Bar Association urges federal, state, local and territorial governments to take legislative action to curtail the availability and effectiveness of the “gay panic” and “trans panic” defenses, which seek to partially or completely excuse crimes such as murder and assault on the grounds that the victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity is to blame for the defendant’s violent reaction. Such legislative action should include:
“(a) Requiring courts in any criminal trial or proceeding, upon the request of a party, to instruct the jury not to let bias, sympathy, prejudice, or public opinion influence its decision about the victims, witnesses, or defendants based upon sexual orientation or gender identity; and
“(b) Specifying that neither a non-violent sexual advance, nor the discovery of a person’s sex or gender identity, constitutes legally adequate provocation to mitigate the crime of murder to manslaughter, or to mitigate the severity of any non-capital crime.”
The “gay panic” defense has been used in U.S. cases, perhaps most infamously in 1995 in the Michigan trial of Jonathan Schmitz, who killed his friend, Scott Amedure, after learning during a taping of the “The Jenny Jones Show” that Amedure had a crush on him.
The two men who killed Matthew Shepard in October 1998 in Laramie, Wyo., also attempted to use the “gay panic” defense.
The voting by the ABA’s 560-member House of Delegates concluded the organization’s annual meeting, which also featuring an award presentation to former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and a speech by Attorney General Eric Holder.
The delegates approved multiple policies sponsored by the ABA’s criminal justice group, including the one against the use of the “gay panic” defense and others regarding youth in the juvenile justice system with mental health and substance abuse disorders; child abuse and neglect laws and the re-examination of strict liability offenses.
The delegates also adopted resolutions related to international law, including one urging countries not to apply statutes of limitations with respect to genocide crimes against humanity and serious war crimes; another encouraging the establishment of a network of U.S. judges to facilitate communication regarding the interpretation of the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction and a third recognizing that U.S. common law is not an appropriate basis for refusing to enforce arbitrational awards.
Other approved resolutions:
• Support the rights of all Americans, particularly veterans, to access adequate mental health and substance use disorder services.
• Urge governments to promote the human right to adequate housing.
• Urge Congress to enact the Supplemental Security Income Restoration Act of 2013.
• Approve the Uniform Prevention of and Remedies for Human Trafficking Act.