Prosecutors call for end to 'gay panic' legal defenses
Prosecutors in San Francisco on Thursday called for limiting the use of "gay panic" defenses in criminal trials. On the second day of a two-day national conference devoted to debate of the legal strategy, in which defense attorneys claim their clients' crimes are justified because of fear or anger over their victims' sexual orientation, prosecutors said such a rationale is no longer acceptable, the Associated Press reports.
"The suggestion that criminal conduct is mitigated by bias or prejudice is inappropriate," San Francisco district attorney Kamala Harris, who organised the conference, told the AP. "We can't outlaw it, but we can combat it."
Bills designed to counter "gay panic" defenses are currently pending in both California and New York's legislatures. They would require judges to instruct juries that a defendant's prejudice against his victim cannot affect their deliberations. The California measure, inspired by the 2002 murder of transgender teen Gwen Araujo, would also include the instruction that considering such prejudice violates state laws protecting LGBT people from discrimination.
But one conference participant — Angela Harris, a professor at the law school of the University of California, Berkeley — said that while laws against "gay panic" defenses would be helpful, the legal strategy will eventually lose its effectiveness over time as gays become more accepted into mainstream society.