AP NEWS

‘Gay panic’ defense ban moves forward in CT

May 10, 2019

The Senate overwhelmingly endorsed a measure Thursday to ban the so-called gay panic defense, a legal strategy that asks a jury to find that a victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity is to blame for a defendant’s actions.

It has been invoked in crimes as serious as homicide, including by defendants in the case of Matthew Shepard, a gay student in Wyoming who was beaten, tortured and bound to a fence in 1998. Shepard died six days later from severe head injuries.

A lawyer for one of the two men charged with his murder claimed that his client only intended to rob Shepard, but killed him in a rage after Shepard made a sexual advance. The lawyer argued that his client was driven to temporary insanity by the advance.

The defendants in that case both received two consecutive life sentences.

Three other states - California, Rhode Island and Illinois - have passed legislation banning the practice. New York is now weighing a similar bill.

“According to research from the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law, these defenses have been used or attempted to be used in approximately half of the states at one time or another,” Sen. President Pro Tem Martin Looney said. “We’ve had reports of it in Connecticut, especially in circumstances where someone solicits a prostitute and the prostitute turns out to be other than the customer intended and reacts violently. … The result in many cases has led to a reduction in charges for some offenders.”

Looney said the legal maneuver has been used in cases of temporary insanity or diminished capacity.

Kissel said the state already has some of the strongest hate crime laws, but praised the effort to pass a ban on the gay panic defense.

“I can’t for the life of me imagine any defense counsel worth his or her salt trying to use this as a defense, but as a policy statement at the least, saying to the people of Connecticut: There’s absolutely no way that one could defend themselves because they were surprised that someone was gay or transgender — I think that is appropriate public policy,” Kissel said.

The measure now heads to the House.