DC Council to consider banning so-called ‘gay panic’ defense

D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson has introduced a bill that would limit the ability of people charged with violent crimes from claiming they acted in self-defense when learning the victim was gay or transgender.

“It is unacceptable for bigots to claim panic as a defense, as if the victim was at fault for the bias-related crime,” Mendelson said, in introducing the “Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Panic Defense Prohibition Act of 2019.”

The bill would counter the three ways the panic defense has traditionally been used to mitigate a violent crime: insanity or diminished capacity, provocation, self-defense.

Under Mendelson’s bill, a defendant wouldn’t be able to claim they acted in a “heat of passion” if their action was based on the discovery of a person’s actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity, even if the person “made an unwanted, non-forcible romantic or sexual advance toward the defendant.”

The bill also said “a defendant does not suffer from reduced mental capacity based solely on the discovery” that the victim is a member of the LGBTQ community.

Approximately a dozen states currently have similar gay panic defense bans, according to The National LGBTBar Association and Foundation.

Mendelson was involved in helping legalize same-sex marriage in the District in 2009.

“We as a government must do all that we can to protect populations whose very existence can be taken advantage of,” Mendelson said in a statement.

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

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