Vermont has banned gay and trans panic defences, marking a major victory for the state’s LGBT+ community.
Republican governor Phil Scott signed H 128 into law on Wednesday (5 May) after the state legislature nearly unanimously passed it earlier this year. The legislation prohibits the usage of a victim’s gender identity or sexual orientation as a justification for the criminal actions of a defendant.
The decades-old legal strategy, commonly known as the LGBT+ “panic defence”, asks a jury to find that a victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity is to blame for another person’s violent reaction, including murder. It can also be used to lessen charges or shorten the sentences of a defendant.
Scott said in a video message posted on YouTube that the ban on panic defences will send a “message to Vermonters that your identity should never be an excuse for someone to cause you harm”. He also added the bill will “make sure a victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity can’t be used to defend or justify a criminal act or lower a sentence”.
“While this effort is a step in the right direction, we know there is still more work to do to ensure all Vermonters regardless of identity feel safe and protected in our state, and I look forward to continuing our work together in the future,” Scott said.
He also acknowledged the hard work of the LGBTQIA Alliance of Vermont and the Pride Center of Vermont, who have “been advocating for change and equality for years”.
Democrat representative Taylor Small, who is the state’s first openly trans legislator, celebrated the historic moment for Vermont on Twitter. She said she is “grateful for the unanimous support of both the legislative and executive branches in effectively passing H 128”.
Vermont joins 12 other states as well as Washington DC in banning the LGBT+ “panic” defence. The other states which prohibit the use of LGBT+ “panic” legal defences include California, Illinois, Rhode Island, Nevada, Maine, Connecticut, Hawaii, New York, New Jersey, Washington, Colorado and Virginia.
Maryland lawmakers signed legislation to outlaw the “panic” defence earlier this year. The bill passed its third reading 47-0 this month. The measure is still awaiting Republican governor Larry Hogan’s signature, according to the Washington Blade.