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  • Nic F. Anderson

Two Bills Banning 'LGBTQ+ Panic Defense' Proposed in D.C. Council

Two council members from Washington D.C. introduced two versions of a bill. Both are proposing a ban on the use of the “LGBTQ+ Panic Defense.”

LGBTQ+ Panic Defense is a legal strategy that some lawyers use in court to argue that their client’s violent reaction was a result of a “panic” they experienced after finding their victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity. This defense is also used for murder charges.

Councilmember David Grosso's (I) version of the bill was first introduced in 2017 but was killed in the committee two years in a row.

His bill includes banning panic defenses for color, disability, gender, race, religion and national origin. This new version, “Tony Hunter and Bella Evangelista Panic Defense Prohibition Act,” was named after two LGBTQ+ people who were killed by people who later used the panic defense as their legal strategy.

Grosso said during a meeting that this bill would be the beginning of an end of the defense usage in the District of Columbia. He added that he's passionate about human rights for criminal defendants, a fair and swift trial and incarceration alternatives. However, he’s intolerant of using bigotry as a justifiable excuse in court.

Council Chair Phil Mendelson's (D) version of the bill, “Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Panic Defense Prohibition Act,” would ban the defense for sexual orientation and gender identity.

In the states where it is not banned, there are three ways the defense is used: defense of insanity or diminished capacity, defense of provocation and defense of self-defense.

In the case of defense of insanity or diminished capacity, it’s argued the defendant the victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity “triggered a nervous breakdown.” The LGBT Bar says this defense is “based on an outdated psychological term, “gay panic disorder”, which was debunked by the American Psychiatric Association and removed from the DSM in 1973.”

In the case of defense of provocation, the defendant’s lawyer argues that the victim’s proposition, sexual or not, was enough to provoke the defendant to cause bodily harm or death to the victim.

Lastly, in the case of the defense of self-defense, the defendants can claim that they felt they were about to have bodily harm caused to them after finding out their victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

Only eight states in America have banned this defense: California is 2014, Illinois in 2017, Rhode Island in 2018, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maine, Nevada and New York in 2019.

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