Governor Ned Lamont today announced that he has signed legislation prohibiting criminal defendants in Connecticut from using a victim’s actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity as a legal tactic to bolster the defense of the violent crimes for which they are accused.
Commonly referred to as the gay and transgender “panic” defense, the strategy asks a jury to find that a victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity is to blame for the defendant’s violent reaction. When the tactic is employed, the perpetrator claims that their victim’s sexual orientation or gender identify not only explains – but excuses – their loss of self-control and subsequent assault.
The defense has been used to acquit dozens of murderers of their crimes in cases across the country, according to the National LGBT Bar Association. One of the most recognized cases that employed the strategy was that of Matthew Shepard, a 21-year-old college student who was beaten to death in 1998 by two men, who later attempted to use the victim’s sexual orientation to excuse their actions.
“Claiming that meeting or interacting with someone who is gay or transgender elicited some type of temporary insanity that is supposed to justify a violent crime is ludicrous, and quite frankly it is absurd that this tactic has ever been successfully utilized in the court system,” Governor Lamont said. “The strategy also implies that the life of a gay or transgender person is valued less than others. We will not allow homophobia and transphobia to be legitimate reasons that justify violent crime.”
Governor Lamont noted that even in instances where juries are instructed not to listen to gay and transgender “panic” defenses, the implicit homophobic bias of hearing the defense at all can still influence the jury’s decision.
“The governor and I are proud to support this bill, for our administration is committed to making our state a place where absolutely no one experiences prejudice, discrimination, or violence because of their gender identity, expression, or sexual orientation,” Lt. Governor Susan Bysiewicz said. “Prior law allowed for the gay and transgender panic defense strategy, which asked a jury – even in cases of murder – to find that a victim’s gender identity or sexual orientation was responsible for a defendant’s violent reaction. This bill will ensure that further legal rights and protections are extended onto those of our state’s LGBTQ+ community, preventing further discrimination and violence.”
Connecticut becomes the fifth state to ban the gay and transgender “panic” defense, following California, Illinois, Rhode Island, and Nevada.
Governor Lamont expressed his gratitude to the legislative advocates who introduced the bill and successfully achieved its approval in the General Assembly.
“I would like to thank Governor Lamont for signing this important legislation,” Senate President Pro Tempore Martin M. Looney (D-New Haven) said. “Using the sexual orientation or gender identity of a victim as an excuse for violent behavior is inexcusable and incomprehensible. However, we have seen this legal defense invoked in other states with an appalling level of success. Discrimination of this kind or any other has no place in our society and certainly not in our legal system. Connecticut prides itself on being an open and accepting state and we will not tolerate homophobia or transphobia. In addition, failure to enact this ‘panic defense’ statute would severely undermine the efficacy of our hate crimes law, since allowing this defense would enable a defendant to rely upon the same bigotry and bias our hate crimes law is designed to combat.”
“We cannot allow our criminal justice system to deny justice to members of the LGBTQ+ community who have been hurt physically, mentally, and emotionally by hate-fueled acts of violence,” State Representative Jeff Currey (D-East Hartford, Manchester, South Windsor) said. “This defense has historically been used to justify violent reactions to LGBTQ+ persons, putting the comfort of perpetrators above victims in a court of law. I am proud to see Connecticut adopt this bill and continue to advocate for the LGBTQ+ community.”
“The ‘gay and trans panic defense’ is a mockery of our judicial system. Its very existence is based on hatred, discrimination, and homophobia,” State Representative Raghib Allie-Brennan (D-Bethel, Danbury, Newtown, Redding) said. “Passage of this legislation is a victory for the LGBTQ+ community, and for those of us who recognize the importance of equal protection under the law for everyone. I’m proud to have played a role in advocating for its passage and extend my deepest appreciation to Governor Lamont for signing this important legislation.”
The legislation is Public Act 19-27, An Act Concerning Gay and Transgender Panic Defense. It was approved in both chambers of the legislature by unanimous votes: 34-0 in the Senate and 142-0 in the House of Representatives.
The law goes into effect October 1, 2019.