Downey Bill Banning "Gay Panic Defense" Unanimously Passed by Committee

Joining other states who have enacted or considered a ban on the use of ‘gay or trans panic’ legal strategies in criminal cases, legislation sponsored by Assemblywoman Joann Downey cleared an Assembly panel on Monday. The bill (A-1796) would prohibit the use of so-called “gay panic” defenses for the commission of murder.

"This bill is a major step forward in removing bigotry from our courts, and showing New Jersey's LGBTQ community that we stand with them in solidarity against discrimination and hatred," said Downey. "The so-called 'gay panic defense' or 'trans panic defense' has never been more than a transparent attempt to allow bigots to assault or murder LGBTQ individuals with impunity, and it is long past time that we ended that dark chapter in American legal history."

Current law provides that a homicide, which would otherwise be murder, is reduced to manslaughter if the jury finds that the homicide was committed “in the heat of passion” resulting from a reasonable provocation.”

The legislation, heard before the Assembly Judiciary Committee, intends to prevent a defendant from seeking the reduction of a murder charge to manslaughter committed in the heat of passion when allegedly provoked by the discovery of, knowledge about, or potential disclosure of the homicide victim’s actual or perceived gender identity or expression, or affectional or sexual orientation.

A provoked heat of passion manslaughter is a crime of the second degree punishable by five to 10 years imprisonment, a fine of up to $150,000, or both; while murder is a crime of the first degree, punishable by a term of imprisonment for a period ranging from 30 years to life, depending upon the circumstances of the act, a fine of up to $200,000, or both.

Seven (7) states- New York, Hawaii, California, Rhode Island, Illinois, Nevada, and Connecticut- have signed into law similar legislation.
The legislation would take effect immediately after signing.

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