OCEAN TOWNSHIP – Under the “gay panic” or “trans panic defense,” it was previously legal for New Jersey defendants to seek to reduce a charge of murder to a charge of manslaugher if their actions were allegedly provoked by their discovery of their victim’s gender identity or sexual orientation. That defense has now been banned under a new law (A-1796) sponsored by Senator Vin Gopal and Assemblywoman Joann Downey, signed by Governor Murphy this Tuesday, which would permanently ban the use of the so-called “gay panic defense” for the commission of murder.
“Members of the LGBTQ community deserve protection from bigotry and hate – and the so-called ‘gay panic’ or ‘trans panic’ defense has no place in our courts,” said Gopal. “It’s critical that we do all we can to ensure that no LGBTQ person has to fear for their lives or their safety because of their sexuality or gender identity.”
“This law is a major step forward in addressing discrimination in our court system and showing New Jersey’s LGBTQ community that we stand with them in solidarity against any type of discrimination and hatred,” said Downey. “The so-called ‘gay panic defense’ or ‘trans panic defense’ has never been more than a transparent attempt to allow the assault or murder of LGBTQ individuals to happen with impunity, and it is long past time that we ended this dark chapter in American legal history.”
Prior law provided that a homicide, which would otherwise be murder, is reduced to manslaughter if the jury finds that the homicide was committed “in the heat of passion” resulting from a “reasonable provocation.”
The law will prevent a defendant from seeking the reduction of a murder charge to manslaughter committed in the heat of passion when allegedly provoked by the discovery of, knowledge about, or potential disclosure of the homicide victim’s actual or perceived gender identity or expression, or affectional or sexual orientation.
A provoked heat of passion manslaughter is a crime of the second degree punishable by five to 10 years imprisonment, a fine of up to $150,000, or both; while murder is a crime of the first degree, punishable by a term of imprisonment for a period ranging from 30 years to life, depending upon the circumstances of the act, a fine of up to $200,000, or both.
Seven states – New York, Hawaii, California, Rhode Island, Illinois, Nevada, and Connecticut – have signed into law similar legislation. New Jersey’s law will take effect immediately.