House passes bill to ban ‘gay or trans panic’ defense
STATE HOUSE – The House of Representatives today approved legislation to prevent the use of the “gay or trans panic” defense in cases where a transgender or homosexual person has been murdered or assaulted.
The legislation (2018-H 7066aa), sponsored by Rep. Kenneth A. Marshall (D-Dist. 68, Bristol, Warren) would prevent defense attorneys from trying to get their clients a lighter sentence or a commutation to a lower charge by arguing that the crime was the result of shock caused by discovering their victim’s gender identity or homosexuality.
“I consider this common-sense legislation,” said Representative Marshall. “A victim is a victim, and no victim’s life is worth less than another’s because of his or her gender identity or sexuality. The American Bar Association, which includes defense attorneys, has urged states to change laws to delegitimize this defense, and Rhode Island should join those states that do not allow it to be used to warp justice.”
The legislation, which now goes to the Senate, would prevent the use of any defense in a trial that claims the perpetrator was either provoked, suffering from diminished mental capacity or attempting self-defense as a result of discovering the victim’s actual or perceived gender, gender identity, gender expression or sexual orientation.
While it is somewhat rarely used and has often been rejected by courts, the gay panic defense has been used as recently as this month in Texas, when a jury recommended only 10 years probation for a man who stabbed his neighbor to death. The defense was also attempted by one of the two men convicted in the brutal murder of Matthew Shepard in Laramie, WY, in 1998, although it was rejected.
Although it has never attempted in Rhode Island, Representative Marshall said the state should specify that it is an invalid defense to ensure that it remains unused. California and Illinois have adopted similar legislation.
The legislation is supported by the American Bar Association and the Transgender, Gender Non-Conforming and Intersex Support Network of Rhode Island.
The bill is cosponsored by Rep. David E. Bennett (D-Dist. 20, Warwick, Cranston), Rep. Christopher R. Blazejewski (D-Dist. 2, Providence), Rep. Kenneth J. Mendonça (R-Dist. 72, Portsmouth, Middletown) and Rep. Gregory J. Costantino (D-Dist. 44, Lincoln, Johnston, Smithfield).
For more information, contact:
Meredyth R. Whitty, Publicist
State House Room 20
Providence, RI 02903