AB 2501, authored by Assemblymember Susan Bonilla and sponsored by Equality California, has passed the Assembly Public Safety Committee with a vote of 5-1. AB 2501 would 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.
“We’re glad that the Assembly Public Safety Committee agreed that this manufactured defense that plays upon homophobia and transphobia has no place in California’s justice system,” said John O’Connor, executive director of EQCA. “The law should not treat victims of crime any differently because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, and that includes eliminating anti-LGBT bias as a ‘reasonable’ basis to mitigate the punishment for violent crimes against them.”
“It is reprehensible to learn that criminal defendants are encouraged by their defense counsel to employ a ‘panic defense’ in an attempt to receive a possible lesser charge or avoid conviction,” said Assemblywoman Susan A. Bonilla. “This legislation makes it very clear that discrimination against people of the LGBT community is never acceptable and certainly has no place in our justice system.”
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.
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.
AB 2501 moves next to the Assembly Appropriations Committee.
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. www.eqca.org