Attorney General Kamala D. Harris Signs on as Co-sponsor for Bill to Curb “Panic Defense”

Attorney General Kamala D. Harris has become an official co-sponsor for AB 2501, a bill authored by Assemblymember Susan Bonilla and designed to curb the so-called “panic defense” by making it clear that a defendant’s discovery of a victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity is not sufficient provocation to reduce a charge of murder to manslaughter. Equality California is a sponsor of the bill.

“Getting Attorney General Kamala Harris to co-sponsor AB 2501 is an exciting sign that California is serious about curbing these bogus ‘panic’ defenses,” said John O’Connor, Equality California executive director. ”A victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity should never be used to excuse a crime against them, and we thank Assemblymember Bonilla and Attorney General Harris for their leadership on this issue.”

“As the state’s chief law enforcement officer and a career prosecutor, I’ve long viewed the panic defense as an injustice not only to our LGBT community, but to all Californians who rightly expect all victims to be treated equally under the law,” Attorney General Harris said. “This bill ensures that violent crimes cannot be excused by a defendant’s prejudice. I commend Assemblymember Bonilla for standing up on this serious issue.”

“With the strong support of Attorney General Kamala Harris to ban panic defenses in court, we are making it very clear that discrimination against people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender has no place in our justice system,” said Assemblymember Bonilla.

Currently, “heat of passion” and “sudden quarrel” defenses must be legally supported with evidence of provocation, and that provocation may include discovery of a victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Similar legislation was attempted in 2005 in the California Legislature but was substantially amended to only require the court to instruct the jury that their verdict should not be influenced by bias against a victim.

There have been several high-profile cases over the past ten years where panic defenses were used, including the murders of LGBT teens Gwen Araujo in Newark, California and Larry King in Oxnard, California.

Equality California (EQCA) is the largest statewide lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender advocacy organization in California. For more than a decade, Equality California has strategically moved California from a state with extremely limited legal protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people to a state with some of the most comprehensive human rights protections in the nation. Equality California has partnered with legislators to successfully sponsor 96 pieces of pro-equality legislation. EQCA continues to advance equality through legislative advocacy, electoral work, public education and community empowerment.