Multiple US states are moving to get rid of the ‘gay or trans panic defense’ which lets criminals who attack LGBT+ get a smaller sentence.
It works when a defendant claims they attacked someone in a state of violent temporary insanity, committing assault or murder, because of unwanted same-sex sexual advances.
In gay cases, they say they were acting in self-defense from unwanted advances. Meanwhile in trans cases, they may claim they didn’t realize the person was trans until seeing them naked or engaging in sex.
In both cases, the lawyers’ trick has seen judges give criminals smaller sentences for assault, manslaughter or even murder. Indeed, in some cases, attackers have even escaped punishment altogether.
Hate attacks on the rise
Technically people can attempt to use the defense in a number of countries. However, it seems to be more used, or at least better documented in the United States.
Despite that, only a handful of states have banned its use so far. They are California (2014), Illinois (2017), Rhode Island (2018), Conneticut, Maine, Hawaii, Nevada and New York in 2019 and New Jersey this year.
But another 10 states are currently considering a ban.
In Pennsylvania, the issue is being pushed by State Representatives Dan Miller and Adam Ravenstahl.
Ravenstahl said: ‘I was appalled to learn that it is still possible in Pennsylvania for people to hide behind hate as justification for their actions.
‘We need to continue moving forward to ensure that all Pennsylvanians, regardless of whom they love, have the same basic civil rights.
‘Removing the possibility of this abhorrent defense from the books is a step in the right direction and one that I hope will receive broad bipartisan support and swift passage.’
Moreover the pair said they are acting now because of an increase in hate crimes. In fact, the LGBT+ and HIV positive communities suffer one hate-inspired homicide a week in the state.
Meanwhile FBI data confirms this. It shows nearly one in five of over 7,000 hate cries in 2018 were by criminals motivated by LGBT+ bias. And the number of attacks on trans people rose 34% in just that year.
Miller added: ‘Many Pennsylvanians in the LGBTQ+ community are living in fear.
‘It is simply unjustifiable in any context that this type of defense can be used in 2020.
‘With acts of hate unfortunately on the rise in recent years, it is very important that we say, “enough is enough,” and stand in support of our LGBTQ+ community.’
States lining up to ban the defense
A number of other states are also considering banning both gay and trans panic defenses. Reuters reported last week that Washington could be the 10th state to ban it.
Meanwhile Washington DC, Georgia, Minnesota, Massachusetts, New Mexico and Texas are also considering bans.
In Texas, for example, criminal justice expert Carsten Andersen says lawyers still use the defense. He has tracked 16 cases where they have used it in the last three years.
Sadly, an attempt to ban the defenses at a US national level in 2018 died in committee. But it was reintroduced to both houses of Congress in 2019.
Meanwhile, the defense is also disappearing around the world.
New Zealand banned it in 2009. And South Australia, the last Australian state to allow it, said it will ban it before the end of 2020.