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Florida Senate Minority Leader Book and State Representative Harris Propose Eliminating the 'Panic Defense' for Those Accused in LGBTQ+ Attacks

Florida Senate Democratic Leader Lauren Book (D-Davie) and Florida State Representative Jennifer 'Rita' Harris (D-Orlando).jpg
Florida Legislature
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SB 328/ HB 393 would disallow the legal strategy of asking a jury to find that a crime victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity caused the defendant to “panic” and react violently.

Florida - Wednesday January 25, 2023: Senate Democratic Leader Lauren Book (D-Davie) and Representative Jennifer 'Rita' Harris (D-Orlando) this week filed legislation to eliminate the so-called “gay/trans panic defense” from being used in Florida to legally defend assaults and lethal attacks on LGBTQIA+ individuals. SB 328/ HB 393 would disallow the legal strategy of asking a jury to find that a crime victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity caused the defendant to “panic” and react violently.

“It is discriminatory and unacceptable for LGBTQIA+ individuals to be held responsible for their own assaults or even murders on the grounds of simply being themselves,” says Leader Book. “The current state of the law which allows someone to assault another person simply based on sexual or gender identity cannot stand – the use of a ‘panic’ defense is essentially doing legal gymnastics to defend a hate crime.”

“It’s unacceptable to put the onus of an attack against a member of the LGBTQIA+ community on the victim for simply being who they are,” says Rep. Harris. "They have every right to the freedom to exist without harm. As things stand now, a person could attempt to mount a legal defense to justify assault or even murder because the victim was someone in the LGBQTIA+ community. We need to prevent this type of defense which seeks to justify hate crimes.”

The American Bar Association called on states to take legislative action to end the use of “panic defenses” in 2013. If Book’s bill is passed and signed into law, Florida would join 14 other states and Washington DC which have enacted “panic defense” bans, including New York, New Jersey, Nevada, Illinois, and California.

“Equality Florida applauds Senator Book and Representative Harris for confronting crimes and violence perpetrated against LGBTQ Floridians,” said Equality Florida Public Policy Director Jon Harris Maurer. “At a time when some state leaders are fanning the flames of anti-LGBTQ animus, this legislation reflects Floridians’ true values. No one should bear the burden of violence perpetrated against them and be revictimized by the legal system because of who they are or who they love. This protects all Floridians.”

Sexual orientation/gender identity consistently rank as the third highest motivator for hate crime incidents behind race and religion, with 1 in 5 LGBTQIA+ individuals experiencing hate crimes in their lifetime. Trans and gender non-conforming individuals are especially vulnerable to violence and lethal attacks.

Despite debunking “gay panic disorder,” and its removal from the DSM by the American Psychological Association in 1973, legal defense teams continue to use it. Analysis has shown that in about one-third of cases, charges are reduced for defendants who use the “panic defense.”

This is Leader Book's third year filing this legislation as part of her pro-LGBTQIA+ legislative agenda, which continues to include sponsorship of a resolution calling on the Florida Legislature to formally apologize for enacting the Florida Legislative Investigation Committee, also known as the “Johns Committee” – an investigative body which targeted, intimidated, outed, and even criminalized LGBTQ Floridians, civil rights leaders, and academic leaders in the 1950s and 1960s. This will be Book’s fifth year in a row filing and fighting for an apology for the Johns' Committee's taxpayer-funded, State-sanctioned injustices. She has also co-sponsored the Florida Competitive Workforce Act to prohibit employers from discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity.