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New Jersey bans legal defense rooted in homophobia, transphobia

Posted at 3:21 PM, Jan 23, 2020

TRENTON, N.J. – The governor of New Jersey has signed a bill into law that bans the use of “gay or trans panic” defenses for charges of criminal homicide in the state.

These types of legal strategies have been used to ask a jury to find that a victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity is to blame for a defendant’s violent reaction, including murder, according to the LGBT Bar.

The case involving the death of Matthew Shepard is one of the most well-known that featured an LGBTQ+ panic defense. Two men accused of beating the 21-year-old to death attempted to use the defense to excuse their actions.

In the past, New Jersey defendants have successfully argued that gay or trans panic constituted heat of passion provocation in order to reduce charges of murder to manslaughter.

Under the new law, defendants will be prohibited from using a victim’s actual or perceived gender identity or expression or affectional or sexual orientation as a heat of passion defense to murder in New Jersey courts.

“We will always stand with our LGBTQ+ community and promote full equality for all our residents,” said Governor Phil Murphy. “Gay and trans panic defenses are rooted in homophobia and abhorrent excuses that should never be used to justify violence against vulnerable populations. With this new law, we are enacting critical measures to protect our friends and neighbors in the LGBTQ+ community.”

This makes New Jersey the ninth state to issue a ban on these kinds of defenses. New York passed a similar ban in 2019.