New Jersey bans gay, trans 'panic' defense in murder cases

David Madden
January 21, 2020 - 3:01 pm
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NEW JERSEY (KYW Newsradio) — New Jersey became the ninth state to prohibit homicide defendants from claiming that panic brought on by a victim's sexual orientation or gender identity could be used a legal defense.

Gov. Phil Murphy approved the measure, saying in a statement that “we are enacting critical measures to protect our friends and neighbors in the LGBTQ community.”

Garden State Equality lobbied for the change.

"Having the governor sign this law means that in a court of law a defendant can no longer use as an excuse the fact that their victim was gay or transgender for murder charges,” spokesman Jon Oliveira said.

Legally speaking, the move is dramatic. Crimes committed in the heat of passion often result in lower sentences. Murder can be brought down to manslaughter, which carries a five- to 10-year jail term.

Take that option out and the term jumps to 30 years to life.

"In New Jersey, we’ve seen that the panic defense has been used at least twice, unsuccessfully,” Oliveira added. “But across the nation, it’s been used dozens of times to either reduce a murder charge or acquit a defendant of their crime.”

The defense has been prohibited in California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Nevada, New York and Rhode Island.

The ban takes effect immediately. 

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The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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