Gay/trans panic still used as a criminal defense


A recent study has found that the gay and transgender panic defense is still used in criminal court cases across the country.

A panic defense is an argument that a defendant’s behavior was a “rational response” to finding out the victim is LGBTQ. Currently, 12 states, including Illinois, and the District of Columbia have barred the use of the panic defense. But it is available in other states, including every state that borders Illinois.

A new study by the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law examined current research on violence against LGBTQ people in the U.S. and the use of the gay and trans panic defenses over the last six decades
“In many cases where the gay and trans panic defenses have been raised, we see that the victim and the defendant had a relationship prior to the homicide or the homicide occurred in the course of robbery,” said lead author Christy Mallory, legal director at the Williams Institute. “These findings suggest that defendants were not surprised or in a state of panic when the homicides occurred.” 

  • LGBTQ people were about four times more likely to experience serious violence, including rape or sexual assault, robbery, and aggravated or simple assault than non-LGBTQ people. LGBTQ people were more likely than non-LGBTQ people to experience violence at the hands of someone well-known to them.
  • A separate Williams Institute study found that transgender people were more than four times more likely to experience violent victimization compared to cisgender people.
  • The 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey found 47% of transgender respondents reported that they had been sexually assaulted at some point in their lives. One in ten had been sexually assaulted in the prior year.
  • A 2017 analysis of 2,144 incidents of LGBTQ intimate partner violence by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs found the majority (59%) of survivors were people of color, including 21% who were Black and 27% who were Latino/a.
  • 2020 research by W. Carsten Andresen, associate professor at St. Edwards University, found that the gay and trans panic defenses were used at least 104 times across 35 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico between 1970 and 2020.
    • Charges were reduced for defendants who used the gay and trans panic defenses about one-third of the time (33% of cases).
    • Over half of the murders (54%) were committed in the course of theft or robbery.
    • Of the 80 cases where the relationship between defendant and victim was known, the victim and defendant had a preexisting relationship prior to the homicide in 30 of them.

You can read the full report here.



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