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Assembly Approves Bill Curbing Use Of “Panic Defense” For Murder

Credit: Wikimedia / Ammodramus

The jury box at a court house.

It’s called the "gay panic defense." It's when someone on trial for murder or assault claims they went into an uncontrollable violent rage after learning that a potential romantic partner is actually the same gender as them. A bill that's cleared the state Assembly would end that legal defense in California.

Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla authored the legislation. She says society has moved beyond the idea that the shock of learning someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity could be used to justify attacking them.

“We don’t want that to be an option for someone to say that it’s reasonable that the disclosure of somebody’s sexual orientation would actually be a reasonable cause for someone to commit the act of murder,” says Bonilla.

But Ignacio Hernandez with California Attorneys for Criminal Justice says the measure could undermine the process of determining a defendant’s intent.

“This bill would blur that distinction and make it more difficult for jurors to determine whether someone’s acting out of malice, or they’re acting out of rage,” says Hernandez.

The Senate Public Safety Committee will hear the bill next. California would be the first state to adopt this type of law.

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