October 3rd, 2006

(no subject)

Limit on `gay panic' defense inspired by transgender case is signed by governor

Marking the first law of its kind in the nation, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Thursday signed a bill that limits the use of the so-called ``gay panic'' defense -- legislation inspired by the slaying of a Newark transgender teen.

The ``gay panic'' defense typically arises in cases in which the victim's sexual orientation played a role in the crime. Defendants argue that they did not intentionally kill the victim and that their rage was triggered after learning that the victim was gay or transgender -- meaning they should be punished for a lesser offense, such as manslaughter.

The bill, written by Assemblywoman Sally Lieber, D-Mountain View, states 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.

``The concept of a `panic defense' is absolutely ludicrous,'' Aejaie Sellers, the executive director of the Billy DeFrank LGBT Community Center, said in a statement. ``No one should be able to use their prejudices and biases as a justification for their criminal actions, and I'm glad California is setting the trend for outlawing this horrific practice.''

The Bay Area men convicted last year in the slaying of Gwen Araujo of Newark said they panicked after learning that the 17-year-old transgender teen -- with whom they had been intimate -- was biologically male.

In addition, the bill revises the current California jury instruction regarding bias, explaining that verdicts cannot be based on bias against the victim, defendant or witnesses.

The bill -- which takes effect Jan. 1 -- also asks the state Office of Emergency Services to incorporate training on the ``gay panic'' strategy into its training for prosecutors, as long as funds are available.

-- Mercury News