Democrats in Florida have introduced a bill to outlaw the so-called gay and trans panic defense in criminal cases in the state.
Florida’s Senate minority leader, Lauren Book, and state Rep. Rita Harris filed Senate Bill 328 on Wednesday.
If passed, the Gay and Transgender Panic Legal Defenses Prohibition Act would prohibit defendants "from using a nonviolent sexual advance or specified perceptions or beliefs about another individual as a defense to a criminal offense, to excuse or justify the conduct of an individual who commits a criminal offense, or to mitigate the severity of a criminal offense," the proposed law states.
While the "panic" defense is not written as an official legal defense, some people accused of crimes have claimed that their sudden discovery of somebody’s sexual orientation or gender identity shocked them and compelled them into committing a crime, often a violent one.
“It’s unacceptable to put the onus of an attack against a member of the LGBTQIA+ community on the victim for simply being who they are,” Harris said in a statement. “They have every right to the freedom to exist without harm. As things stand now, a person could attempt to mount a legal defense to justify assault or even murder because the victim was someone in the LGBQTIA+ community. We need to prevent this type of defense which seeks to justify hate crimes.”
The American Bar Association has urged states to take legislative action to bring such defenses to an end as far back as 2013.
Recent data suggests that in about one-third of cases, charges are reduced for defendants who use the panic defense despite a 1973 American Psychiatric Association report debunking “gay panic disorder.”
Book echoed Harris's sentiments calling the possibility of panic defenses "discriminatory."
“The current state of the law which allows someone to assault another person simply based on sexual or gender identity cannot stand – the use of a ‘panic’ defense is essentially doing legal gymnastics to defend a hate crime,” Book said.
Equality Florida, an LGBTQ+ rights group, praised the move.
“Equality Florida applauds Senator Book and Representative Harris for confronting crimes and violence perpetrated against LGBTQ Floridians,” said Equality Florida Public Policy Director Jon Harris Maurer in a statement. “At a time when some state leaders are fanning the flames of anti-LGBTQ animus, this legislation reflects Floridians’ true values. No one should bear the burden of violence perpetrated against them and be revictimized by the legal system because of who they are or who they love. This protects all Floridians.”
Correction: A previous version of the article referred to the American Psychological Association instead of the American Psychiatric Association.