Nevada Bans the ‘Panic’ Defense in Courts for Violence Against Gay and Trans People

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Nevada recently became the fourth U.S. state to ban the “panic” defense in court. This defense has been used for years in courts to attempt to justify or explain that defendants injured or killed LGBTQ people who they claim made unwanted sexual advances toward them.

Senate Bill 97 bans people from using someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity as a defense for committing a violent crime against them. Similar laws are on the books in California, Illinois, and Rhode Island. And, fittingly enough, the legislation was proposed by the Nevada Youth Legislature.

Briana Escamilla, Nevada’s state director for the Human Rights Campaign, said:

“This so-called gay or transgender panic defense is based in prejudice and should never be available in any American courtroom…These ‘defenses’ send the destructive message that LGBTQ victims are less worthy of justice and their attackers justified in their violence. Every victim of violent crime and their families deserve equal justice, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. We’re grateful that Gov. Steve Sisolak quickly signed this legislation into law.”

Gay panic defenses have been employed in courts in the U.S. since the 1960s. One of the most famous cases occurred in the brutal 1998 murder of college student Matthew Shepard in Wyoming. The case grabbed national headlines when the two defendants claimed they became so enraged when Shepard made a sexual advance that they ended up murdering the young man.

The defendants later recanted the gay panic defense and admitted that Shepard’s death was the result of a robbery gone wrong and that they were under the influence of drugs at the time.

As violence against transgender people continues to rise in the U.S., it’s important that states takes these important steps to protect all Americans.