U of R to host lecture on controversial ‘gay panic defense’
There are a host of examples of discrimination against the LGBTQ community within our judicial system, among them is the ‘gay panic’ defense. This seemingly antiquated line of legal reasoning allows defendants to argue they panicked and killed a LGBTQ person after they received unwanted, non-violent sexual advances.
Yes, this is really a thing. Here’s a bit of a breakdown from The Young Turks after California banned the defense.
Ohio State University law professor Joshua Dressler will be breaking down the details of this argument at a University of Richmond event Thursday, April 9.
Dressler, who’s talk is called “Nonviolent Homosexual Advances and Provocation Law,” wrote an article in the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology discussing provocation law, sexual advances and the reasonable man standard.
“Most of the time a criminal law that reflects male views and male standards imposes its judgment on men who have injured other men,” wrote Dressler in the 1995 paper. “It is “boys’ rules” applied to a boy’s fight.’
“The provocation defense has deep roots in Anglo-American jurisprudence.”
This gay panic defense uses the same ideas as the provocation defense, which argues that the victim provoked the defendant, a “reasonable man,” into a heat of passion and thus incited him or her to commit murder. If the defendant was ‘provoked by unwanted homosexual advances’ then he or she can be convicted on a lesser charge, even if those advances were nonviolent.
This method allows gay or trans lives to be deemed less worthy than others, because individuals who kill a member of the LGBT community based on their sexual orientation or gender identity would serve less time for voluntary manslaughter than they would for a murder conviction.
Criminal lawyers started employing this strategy in the 1960’s, according to Cynthia Lee, graduate of George Washington University Law School and author of “The Gay Panic Defense.” In her article, she wrote criminal defense attorneys argued their male clients panicked and killed male victims only after they made unwanted homosexual advances towards them.
There have been several cases revolving around the gay panic defense since then, including the high profile case of Matthew Shepard which inspired the play and television movie, The Laramie Project.
The media and LGBTQ rights groups closely followed the 1998 murder of Sheppard, an openly gay college student in Laramie, Wyoming, as an example of the widespread hate crimes against the gay community.
Sheppard was found tied to a wooden fence and beaten to death about a mile outside of Laramie.
Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson were charged with first-degree murder.
McKinney’s defense tried to use the gay panic defense, saying Sheppard touched him inappropriately in attempt to make sexual advances. The strategy didn’t work in this case and, many years later in a 20/20 interview, McKinney admitted he made up the story about unwanted sexual advances to serve a lesser sentence.
In 2013, the American Bar Association unanimously approved a resolution against the use of the “gay panic defense.”
But so far, California is the only state with legislature to that effect. In September 2014 their general assembly passed a bill banning gay panic and trans panic as a defense in criminal courts.
Dressler will speak from 4:30-5:30 p.m. Thursday, April 9, in the Westhampton Center Living Room at University of Richmond.
The event is free and open to the public.
[View the story "Univ of Richmond's Q-Summit" on Storify]March 25, 2014
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