Nevada could soon be the fourth state in the country to ban the use of so-called ‘gay panic’ or ‘transgender panic’ legal defenses.
The bill, SB 97, passed in the state Senate by a vote of 19 – 2. State Sens. Ira Hansen and Pete Goicoechea, both Republicans, were the only lawmakers to vote no.
The legislation now moves to the state Assembly where Democrats outnumber Republicans 29 – 13.
The new legislation 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.
Language in SB 97 specifically states that “an alleged state of passion or provocation” in a defendant will not be considered a valid defense “if it resulted from… [the] sexual orientation or gender identity or expression of the victim.”
According to the Williams Institute, successful use of the defense can result in murder charges being reduced to manslaughter or other lesser offenses.
The legislation has wide-spread support from several advocacy groups like the Human Rights Campaign, the Transgender Allies Group, PLAN Votes, Nevada Coalition to End Domestic and Sexual Violence, as well as other LGBTQ organizations, according to The Nevada Current.
Only three states – California, Illinois and Rhode Island – have laws in place today that specifically prohibit the use of the defense.
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.
Perhaps the most well-known case 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.
In 2013, the American Bar Association overwhelmingly approved a resolution calling for an end to the defense.