LGBTQ Advocates Call On N.J. To Ban ‘Gay Panic’ Defense For Violent Crimes

One of the men convicted of fatally stabbing and dismembering Francisco Gonzalez Fuentes’s body in Cliffside Park during 2011 attempted to use what is known as the “gay panic defense” on appeal.

Wilfredo Sanchez argued he was “provoked” by Fuentes, who he claimed tried to sexually assault him. Sanchez’s attorney unsuccessfully argued on appeal that lesser charges of passion-provocation manslaughter and reckless manslaughter should have been considered for him instead.

Around the country, advocates have criticized the legal defense that an emotional response prompted by homophobia should lessen someone’s responsibility for violent acts. Now, a bill to ban that defense is set for a vote in the state Assembly on Monday.

“Make no mistake, the gay and trans ‘panic’ defense is flat-out legal malpractice, and it’s time for New Jersey to outlaw this horrific and discriminatory legal strategy,” said Garden State Equality Executive Director Christian Fuscarino.

The bill would prevent the reduction of a murder charge to manslaughter when a homicide is committed in the heat of the moment after learning of another’s gender identity or sexual orientation. New Jersey would join eight other states that have banned such defenses.

Some opponents of the bill have argued that jurors — not lawmakers — should decide whether to toss a gay panic defense.

Dean Dafis, a Maplewood committee member who is gay, told about 20 people who attended a transgender day of remembrance vigil in town on Saturday to push for the bill’s passage. He told NJ Advance Media he was shocked that the legal defense still existed in 2019.

“It’s affirmation that we matter," Dafis said of the measure banning the practice. “That we will not be erased because when the violence against you is legitimized and excused, then you are erased as a victim and what’s happened to you — it’s like it doesn’t matter to anyone.”

Shannon Cuttle, a South Orange/Maple school board member who identifies as non-binary, organized the vigil in Maplewood to remember transgender people who have lost their lives this year. At least 22 transgender and gender non-conforming people were killed in 2019, according to a report released this week by the Human Rights Campaign.

“It's led to furthering additional bias and hate crimes and it’s also making it an excuse,” Cuttle said of the legal defense.

Former state Assemblymen Reed Gusciora, now the mayor of Trenton, and Tim Eustace, D-Bergen, first introduced a version of the bill in 2014, but the measure never got a full vote.

The Assembly will vote on the measure Monday. It would also have to be approved by the Senate, where it has yet to get a hearing, before it lands on Gov. Phil Murphy’s desk.

Original Article