LeGaL is fighting to put an end to the use of gay and trans “panic defense” in New York courts

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The LGBT Bar of New York (LeGaL) was one of the nation’s first bar associations of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender legal community. Serving the New York metropolitan area, LeGaL is dedicated to improving the administration of the law, ensuring full equality for members of the LGBT community and promoting the expertise and advancement of LGBT legal professionals.

That is why LeGaL is fighting to put an end to the use of gay and trans “panic defense” in New York courts.

In 2016, more than 1,300 hate crimes based on sexual orientation and gender identity were reported to the Federal Bureau of Investigation by local law enforcement agencies.

Our local agencies reported 123 hate-based incidents against LGBT New Yorkers in that year alone, up from 107 the year prior. Issues with underreporting to law enforcement by LGBT crime victims means the number of incidents is likely to be much higher.

While the state legislature has worked to address criminal conduct based on bias and prejudice—including conduct targeting sexual orientation and gender identity—with the passage of the Hate Crimes Act of 2000, violence against LGBT New Yorkers continues throughout the state.

This is from our recent article in the New York Law Journal

On August 17, 2013, Islan Nettles met James Dixon on the streets in Harlem. Dixon started flirting with Nettles, unaware that she was a transgender woman. When Dixon’s friends started mocking him, Dixon became enraged and struck Nettles, causing her to fall to the ground. Evidence indicated that she was repeatedly struck while lying on the pavement, and that her head had been rammed into the pavement. Five days after the incident, Nettles died as a result of her injuries at age 21.

Dixon later told police officers that he “just didn’t want to be fooled,” and that he had gone into “a blind fury” when he discovered that Nettles was transgender. On the eve of trial, Dixon pled guilty to manslaughter in exchange for a promised sentence of 12 years in prison, out of a maximum sentence of 25 years. Dixon’s attempt to justify killing Nettles after discovering her gender identity is reflective of a system that endorses a blame-shifting strategy upon which those accused of LGBT murder think they can rely in order to rally the anti-LGBT biases of judges and juries and mitigate their perceived culpability. Tactics like this are frequently referred to as “gay panic” and “trans panic” legal defenses — and they have not been banned here in New York.

Gay and trans panic defenses run afoul of New York’s anti-hate legislation enacted nearly two decades ago. Passage of this proposed legislation will alleviate this irreconcilable inconsistency in our criminal justice system and help ensure that those who commit violent acts are unable to profit from unconscious public biases against LGBT people and escape justice. LGBT New Yorkers should not have to live in fear that being out could provide justification for violence against them. It is time for New York to join other states in adopting similar legislation.

Read our memo in support of legislation to end these defenses in New York State.

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