Committee Approves Bonilla’s Legislation to Ban “Panic Defense” in Court


 susan bonilla

SACRAMENTO – Assemblywoman Susan A. Bonilla’s measure, AB 2501, was approved today by the Assembly Public Safety committee.  This bill ensures that criminal defendants cannot use the so-called “panic defense” claim in an attempt to lower a charge from murder to manslaughter, or to escape conviction all together.

“It is appalling that defendants are currently allowed to use the ‘panic defense’ tactic in court to take advantage of a victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity, as justification for their acts of violence,” said Assemblywoman Bonilla.  “With this bill, we are making it very clear that discrimination against people of the LGBT community is never acceptable and certainly has no place in our justice system.”

In recent years, there have been a number of high-profile cases that illustrate how panic defenses have been successfully employed to take advantage of LGBT stereotypes and biases.  AB 2501, sponsored by Equality California (EQCA), addresses this injustice.  This bill prohibits the use of a “panic defense” to qualify for a conviction of lesser charges when the cause of panic is based on a victim’s gender identity, gender expression, or sexual orientation.

“We’re glad that the Assembly Public Safety Committee agreed that this manufactured defense that plays upon homophobia and transphobia has no place in California’s justice system,” said John O’Connor, executive director of EQCA. “The law should not treat victims of crime any differently because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, and that includes eliminating anti-LGBT bias as a ‘reasonable’ basis to mitigate the punishment for violent crimes against them.”

Assemblywoman Susan A. Bonilla (D-Concord) was elected in November 2010 and represents California’s 14th Assembly District, which includes Contra Costa County and Solano County.