Governor Phil Murphy signed into law a ban on the so called ‘gay panic’ defense, making New Jersey the eighth state to prohibit it. The legislation was sponsored by Assembly Democrats John McKeon and Joanna Downey.
“The ‘gay panic or trans panic’ defense is not a freestanding defense to criminal liability, but rather a legal tactic. It’s used to diminish the reason for a defendant’s violent reaction that asks a jury to find a victim’s sexual orientation or gender/expression as the cause,” McKeon (D- Essex, Morris), said in a statement. “Whether the person was gay, transgender or heterosexual, sexual orientation should not have any bearing on determining a person’s guilt in a murder trial. It is prejudiced against the LGBTQ community.”
The so-called ‘gay panic’ defense was used by defendants blaming a victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity for provoking the defendant into murdering the victim. It was most notably used—unsuccessfully—by the defendants in the death of college student Matthew Shepard in 1998.
“This law is a major step forward in addressing discrimination in our court system, and showing New Jersey’s LGBTQ community that we stand with them in solidarity against any type of discrimination and hatred,” Downey (D-Monmouth), said in a statement. “The so-called ‘gay panic defense’ or ‘trans panic defense’ has never been more than a transparent attempt to allow the assault or murder of LGBTQ individuals to happen with impunity, and it is long past time that we ended this dark chapter in American legal history.”