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American Bar Association to vote on resolution against LGBT ‘panic’ defences in August

The American Bar Association will vote to end the use of so-called ‘gay panic’ defenses at its annual meeting in August, 15 years after the murder of Matthew Shepard
Matthew Shephard in 1998

The American Bar Association’s Criminal Justice Section has passed a resolution to protect victims of so called gay and transgender ‘panic’ legal defenses and will take the resolution to the association’s annual meeting in August.

The passing of the resolution by the Criminal Justice Section, which supports members of the LGBT community by no longer allowing defense attorneys to use victims’ identities or their sexual orientation against them in court, was welcomed by the US National LGBT Bar Association.

‘This resolution puts an end to a longstanding injustice in our legal system and gives a voice to countless lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender victims of violence, a voice we never hear because they are no longer here to speak for themselves,’ said D’Arcy Kemnitz, executive director of the LGBT Bar.

Gay and trans 'panic' defense tactics ask a jury to find that a victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity provoked the defendant’s excessively violent reaction to the point that they were not fully responsible for their actions.

Perpetrators claim that their victims' sexual orientation or gender identity explain their loss of self-control and subsequent assault of an LGBT individual.

The National LGBT Bar Association believes that by fully or partially acquitting the perpetrators of crimes against LGBT victims, such defenses imply that LGBT lives are worth less than others.

The resolution comes as the 15th anniversary of the murder of Wyoming college student Matthew Shepard approaches.

Shephard was tortured and left to die by two men who tied him to a fence near the town of Laramie on October 12 in 1998 and they attempted to use the gay panic defense to excuse their actions during their trials.

The National LGBT Bar Association says the defense is still being used today - most recently in connection with the February murder of Mississippi mayoral candidate Marco McMillian.

McMillian was the state’s first openly gay candidate for office and Lawrence Reed, the man who admitted to killing McMillian, has made comments to the media that suggest he will seek to use the gay panic defense to mitigate the charges against him.

‘We have been fighting against gay and trans panic defenses for more than 15 years,’ Kemnitz said.

‘We must protect the LGBT community by refusing to allow defendants to use a victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity to justify their heinous crimes.’

The National LGBT Bar Association developed the resolution, calling for jury instruction and training for judges, attorneys and juries geared toward supporting victims by minimizing the use of LGBT ‘panic’ legal defenses.

The American Bar Association House of Delegates must pass the resolution at the 2013 ABA Annual Meeting this August for the recommendations to become official ABA policy.

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