Washington D.C. Councilmembers David Grosso and Chairman Phil Mendelson have introduced two separate bills—the “Tony Hunter and Bella Evangelista Panic Defense Prohibition Act of 2019” and “Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Panic Defense Prohibition Act of 2019,” respectively.
The legislation would prohibit legal defenses that “seek to partially or completely excuse crimes such as murder and assault” based on a victim’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or other inherent identities.
Councilmember David Grosso (I-At Large) named the legislation (“Tony Hunter and Bella Evangelista Panic Defense Prohibition Act”) after a gay man, Tony Hunter, killed outside a gay bar, and Bella Evangelista, a transgender Latinx woman killed in the District in 2003. Assailants in both trials employed LGBTQ+ “panic” defenses.
Chairman Phil Mendelson (D-At-Large), who promoted marriage equality legislation in D.C. ten years ago and has been an advocate of LGBTQ rights in the District, also introduced his legislation, the “Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Panic Defense Prohibition Act.” In his press release, Mendelson indicated that he will hold a roundtable meeting with “LGBTQ advocates, the Mayor, and government agency heads…to assist in getting a deeper conversation going about the challenges facing the LGBTQ community in the District.”
Councilmember Grosso’s bill will not just help protect LGBTQ+ individuals; the bill also prohibits discrimination against “other inherent identity,” serving as an umbrella term for all types of discrimination such as race, disability, and religion caused by a so-called “heat of passion.”
“This bill would prohibit the misuse of a victim’s identity as an excuse for perpetrating a murder or violence…This Act is a necessary step to address an anachronism in our legal system that demeans and devalues the lives of vulnerable people. These defenses simply have no place in our justice system and it is time for them to go,” said Sasha Buchert, Senior Attorney at Lambda Legal, in Councilmember Grosso’s press release on the legislation’s introduction.
Grosso’s bill also affects juries, stating that “bias, sympathy, prejudice, or public opinion” cannot influence any decision made on their behalf.
Chairman Mendelson’s bill is specific to sexual orientation and gender identity/expression. His bill states a “defendant does not suffer from reduced mental capacity” upon discovering a victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity/expression, and therefore, “panic” defenses cannot influence the outcome of a trial.
LGBTQ+ “panic” defenses have long stood as a symbol of dangerous and outdated thinking. The Tony Hunter and Bella Evangelista Panic Defense Prohibition Act of 2019 would send a clear message: Discrimination has no validity in the courtroom.
Learn more about LGBTQ+ “Panic” Defenses.