Lawmakers in Nevada are considering legislation that would prohibit the use of so-called ‘gay panic’ and ‘trans panic’ defenses in courts across the Silver state.
The bill, SB 97, would ban legal defenses that argue an alleged criminal’s violent actions were justified or provoked by the knowledge of a victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity. The defense tactic asks juries to blame the victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity for the defendant’s alleged violent crimes.
The Nevada Current reports that the legislation has the support of the Human Rights Campaign, the Transgender Allies Group, PLAN Votes, Nevada Coalition to End Domestic and Sexual Violence, as well as other LGBTQ organizations.
Only three states – California, Illinois and Rhode Island – have laws in place today that specifically prohibit the use of the defense.
Additionally, there is similar legislation currently working its way through six states – New Jersey, Washington State, New York, Georgia, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania – as well as Washington, D.C.
Supporters of the bill say these defenses are based on “pseudo-science” that plays on irrational fears based on homophobia and transphobia against LGBTQ people. When successful, these defenses send a message that violence against LGBT people is somehow understandable or acceptable.
While the tactic isn’t commonly utilized, it has been used with success in hate crimes in almost half of all U.S. states.
One of the most famous cases that used a ‘gay panic’ defense was that of Matthew Shepard, who was beaten to death and left to die tied to a fence on a cold Wyoming night. The two men charged with his murder said ‘gay panic’ excused their actions.
According to the Williams Institute, successful use of the defense can result in murder charges being reduced to manslaughter or other lesser offenses.
In 2013, the American Bar Association overwhelmingly approved a resolution calling for an end to the defense.