California Bans 'Gay Panic' Defense

BTL Staff

CALIFORNIA - California legislature passed a bill that will remove "gay panic" as reason to reduce charges from homicide or manslaughter.

Defendants will not be able to escape murder charges by claiming that they panicked when they discovered someone was LGBT. The state Assembly approved AB2501 on 50-10 vote on Aug. 27.

Current California law allows murder charges to be reduced to manslaughter if the killings happen in "the heat of passion."

Democratic Assembly member Susan Bonilla of Concord wrote AB2501 which would bar defendants from using their victim's gender or orientation to support a so-called panic defense.

Bonilla says such defenses legitimize violence against the LGBT community.

The American Bar Association urged governments to curtail the use of panic defenses. Equality California says California would have the first statewide prohibition.

Michigan was at the top of the "Gay Panic" defense in 1995 with one of the highest profile cases. Jonathan Schmitz killed his friend Scott Amedure three days after learning that Amedure was sexually attracted to him. Court ruled that Schmitz's defense was weak since the attack happened three days after his friend's admission. The court said that Schmitz failed to show any panic-based violent psychosis, was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to 25-50 years in prison.

Up until 2001 diminished capacity was allowed as a defense to first-degree murder. That year the Michigan Supreme Court ruled "evidence of mental incapacity short of insanity cannot be used to avoid or reduce criminal responsibility by negating specific intent."

However Michigan is still experiencing instances of "gay panic" related crime and the hate crime laws have yet to be changed.

The California Bill is currently on the Governor Brown's desk awaiting signature.

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