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A bill that limits the use of the "gay panic" defense in criminal trials has passed the California assembly. The bill, authored by Democrat Sally Lieber of San Jose, declares that it is against public policy for a defendant to play upon the bias of the jury or for a jury to allow bias against the victim to enter into its decision-making. The bill further mandates a revised jury instruction to ensure that a juror's duty to operate free from bias is clearly stated to each juror. "This is a critical step forward in the effort to rid our courtrooms of bias," said Lieber. "We must ensure that California's criminal justice system treats all victims equally." The bill was introduced in response to recent cases in California in which murder defendants have tried to lessen the charges against them by arguing that they acted in a panic after discovering that the victim was gay or transgender. The most prominent of these cases was that of Gwen Araujo, a transgender teen from Fremont, who was murdered by acquaintances when they discovered she was biologically male. "California has a powerful law that enhances the penalties of criminals who commit hate crimes," said Geoffrey Kors, Equality California executive director. "The 'panic' defense all but invalidates this law by reducing sentences due to the hate the defendant had for his or her victim." The assembly approved the measure by a vote of 45-32, with two members not voting and one member absent. The bill now moves to the senate. (Advocate.com)
assembly approves limit on use of "gay panic"