Biss 05042017Defendants would not be able to use a victim’s sexual orientation as an excuse for seeking a reduced murder charge under legislation that passed unanimously in the Illinois Senate Friday.

Senator Daniel Biss (D-Evanston) sponsored Senate Bill 1761, which is commonly known as the “gay panic defense” bill. Under the legislation, panicking about the discovery, knowledge or disclosure of a victim’s sexual orientation cannot qualify as a mitigating factor for murder.

“Although these types of criminal defenses are rare, they still happen from time to time around the country,” Biss said. “As we continue to take steps to ensure equal rights for those in the gay, lesbian and transgender community, the government must send an unmistakable signal that sexual orientation should never be grounds for committing an act of violence.”

Under current state law, first-degree murder may be mitigated to second-degree murder if the defendant acted under sudden or intense passion resulting from serious provocation by a victim. “Serious provocation” is defined as conduct sufficient to excite an intense passion in a reasonable person.

The “gay panic” defense first was used in Illinois in 1972. More recently, the defense made headlines in August 2009 when a Cook County jury acquitted a man charged with first-degree murder after he argued “gay panic” in killing his neighbor. The defendant stabbed the victim 61 times for allegedly making an unwanted sexual advance toward the defendant, who said he felt he had to defend himself.

In 2013, the American Bar Association adopted a resolution urging governments to curtail the availability and effectiveness of “gay panic” and “trans panic” defenses. In 2014, California became the first state to legislatively ban the use of the “gay panic” defense.

Senate Bill 1761 passed 41-0 Friday. Brian C. Johnson, CEO of Equality Illinois, the state’s civil rights organization for LGBTQ people, commended Biss and the Illinois Senate for its support of the legislation.

“At a time when one-fifth of hate crimes reported to the FBI are committed against LGBTQ people, Senator Biss and the Illinois Senate sent a powerful bipartisan message today that anti-LGBTQ stigma must not carry over to the court room. This bill ensures that LGBTQ people are not blamed for the violence perpetrated against them simply because of who they are,” Johnson said.

“After we first discussed this issue with Senator Biss, he immediately picked up the baton and ran with the bill, working with his colleagues on both sides of the aisle to build today's bipartisan majority. The lives of LGBTQ Illinoisans will be better because of this legislation."

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