SACRAMENTO – On Saturday afternoon, Governor Jerry Brown signed into law AB 2501, legislation that prohibits the use of “gay panic” and “transgender panic” defenses to reduce murder charges to manslaughter in criminal trials. The passage of this bill makes California the first state in the country to prohibit the use of gay and transgender panic defenses through legislation.
“This bill not only changes the law in California, but creates a model for other states to follow to eliminate the use of gay and transgender panic defenses in other states,” said Brad Sears, Executive Director of the Williams Institute and Adjunct Professor at UCLA School of Law.
There are a number of examples in California and throughout the country of defendants arguing gay and transgender panic defenses in order to reduce their murder charges. In these cases, defendants’ have argued that their violent behavior was a rational response to discovering that their victim was LGBT. The use and acceptance of this defense signaled that violence against the LGBT community was understandable or acceptable.
“The gay and transgender panic defenses did not appear until the late 1960s, and rely on outdated ideas that homosexuality and gender non-conformity are mental diseases,” said Jordan Blair Woods, Williams Institute Law Teaching Fellow. “Since then, the defense has appeared in court opinions in approximately one-third of the states.”
AB 2501 ensures that defendants cannot use gay and transgender panic defenses in an attempt to lower a charge from murder to manslaughter or to escape conviction in California. Additionally, it ensures that such a defense cannot be used in cases of lesser charges, such as assault.