Respect Equality

New Hampshire moves to outlaw ‘gay panic’ defense

Story at a glance

  • New Hampshire is moving to outlaw its “gay panic” defense, by which a defendant may claim they were provoked into violent action by the victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
  • “Gay panic” defenses have been used since the 1960s, according to the Williams Institute, and have been successful in some cases.
  • The American Bar Association in 2013 denounced “gay panic” and “trans panic” defenses.

New Hampshire has inched closer to outlawing its “gay panic” defense, a legal strategy used to excuse the often violent actions of defendants accused of committing crimes against the LGBTQ+ community.

New Hampshire’s House last week voted to outlaw its “gay panic” defense in a 223-118 vote, The Associated Press reported. While supporters of the ban have said it excuses the murder of LGBTQ+ people, its opponents say outlawing any kind of defense would set a bad precedent.

The bill will now go to the state Senate for a vote.

The LGBTQ+ “panic” defense — an offshoot of the temporary insanity defense — has been banned in 15 states and the District of Columbia, according to the LGBTQ Bar. Another 11 states, including New Hampshire, have introduced legislation to ban the defense.


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The American Bar Association in 2013 denounced “gay panic” and “trans panic” defenses, and homosexual panic is not recognized as a mental disorder by the American Psychiatric Association.

Under the “panic” defense, a defendant may claim they were provoked into violent action by the victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

“I describe it like carbon monoxide,” Carsten Andresen, a criminal justice professor at St. Edward’s University in Austin, Tx., recently told The Appeal. “There’s a hazardous byproduct of putting out all these toxic ideas about gay people and other LGBTQ+ people — this idea that they’re predatory. It’s ridiculous.”

Gay and transgender “panic” defenses have appeared in court opinions in roughly 25 states since the 1960s, according to the Williams Institute.

In Andresen’s research, “panic” defenses have been successful in reducing the sentences of people brought up on murder charges at least 33 percent of the time, resulting in shorter prison sentences.

In the infamous 1995 murder of Scott Amedure after an appearance on the “Jenny Jones Show,” his assailant, Johnathan Schmitz, argued he suffered from diminished capacity due to “gay panic disorder.” The jury then reduced his sentence from premeditated murder to second-degree murder. Schmitz was released from prison in 2017.

In 2001, Roderiqus Reshad Reed, using the “gay panic” defense, was acquitted of the murder of Ahmed Dabarran despite his full confession.

During the trial of Matthew Shepard, who was murdered in a vicious anti-gay attack in Wyoming in 1998, one of his killers, Aaron McKinney, attempted to use the “gay panic” defense. McKinney was ultimately convicted and sentenced to life in prison.


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