‘Gay panic’ defense still legal in NJ courts — Lawmaker wants change
Three years ago, a Brooklyn man attacked a woman in Harlem after he had started flirting with he but was then told by friends she was a transgender female.
James Dixon told police he punched Islan Nettles because he “didn’t want to be fooled.”
She died after hitting her head on the sidewalk and Dixon eventually pleaded guilty to a manslaughter charge and got a 12-year prison sentence.
Assemblyman John McKeon, D-Essex, is sponsoring a measure that would ban the “gay panic” defense for the commission of murder during a trial in New Jersey.
“It relates to an individual who murders another and then seeks to downgrade it from purposeful actions to ones that are manslaughter driven by passion," he explained.
Under current New Jersey law, a homicide can be downgraded from murder to manslaughter if the jury finds that the killing was committed "in the heat of passion resulting from a reasonable provocation."
That's the difference of a first-degree crime punishable by 30 years to life, to a second-degree crime punishable by five to 10 years in prison.
McKeon said that in the New York case and in other capital crimes involving someone from the LGBTQ community, “they downgraded to manslaughter on the basis that they were so shocked and outraged to find out somebody was a different sexuality ... That should just never happen.”
Since then, New York and six other states have passed legislation to prohibit the use of the “gay panic” defense for murder.
McKeon said his legislation aims to make sure no one accused of a violent crime will go into court and proclaim “yeah, I killed that individual but I did it because I became so outraged to find out that they were of a sexuality other than what my perception was.”
“There are differences in sexuality of individuals that live here and there have been many laws protecting people based upon the status of their sexuality, and this is a furtherance of that," he said.
Other states that have banned the use of the gay panic defense are California, Connecticut, Illinois, Nevada and Rhode Island.
You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com