June 19, 2019

Assembly Passes Legislation to End the Use of Gay and Trans Panic Defenses

Speaker Carl Heastie and Assemblymember Daniel O'Donnell today announced the Assembly has passed legislation to end the use of gay and trans panic defenses. Under current law, the use of the "extreme emotional disturbance" defense, in some instances, can be used to reduce a murder charge. With this critical change in law, defendants can no longer seek to reduce a murder charge based on discovery of the victim's sexual orientation, sex, gender, gender identity, gender expression or sex assigned at birth (A.8375, O'Donnell).

"It is unconscionable that a victim's sexual orientation or gender identity could be used to reduce the penalty for an individual's violent behavior," said Speaker Heastie. "This legislation ensures that an individual who commits murder based on discriminatory notions will not be able to use such discriminatory motives as a defense to obtain a reduced charge for violence against a member of the LGBTQ community."

"Homophobia or transphobia is not a reasonable or acceptable excuse to assault or murder an individual," said Assemblymember O'Donnell. "Allowing this disgraceful manipulation of our justice system is an affront to the hard-fought rights of gay and trans New Yorkers."

Under current law, a defendant charged with killing a gay, lesbian or transgender person can claim that their actions were triggered by an extreme emotional disturbance upon realizing the victim's sexual orientation or gender identity. Today's legislation would clarify that the discovery of an individual's sexual orientation or gender identity cannot be raised as an affirmative defense for murder to reduce the defendant's culpability.

In August 2013, the American Bar Association passed a resolution urging state governments to take legislative action to curtail the availability and effectiveness of so-called "gay panic" and "trans panic" defenses. Such defenses effectively excuse or mitigate serious violent crimes on the grounds that the victim's sexual orientation or gender identity played a role in causing the crime to be committed.