General Assembly Bans Panic Defense

Illinois General Assembly Passes Ban on Use of LGBTQ Panic Defense
Equality Illinois initiative says victims’ sexual orientation or gender identity no excuse for murder

SPRINGFIELD, IL (May 31, 2017)–The Illinois General Assembly completed action Wednesday on a bill that prohibits a defendant from using the sexual orientation or gender identity of the victim as a defense against a murder charge. Prohibiting the use of the so-called panic defense was an initiative of Equality Illinois, the state’s LGBTQ civil rights organization.

A bipartisan vote of 104-0 on Senate Bill 1761 in the Illinois House on Wednesday followed unanimous 41-0 Senate approval of the legislation earlier this month. The bill’s sponsors were State Sen. Daniel Biss (D-Evanston) and State Rep. Litesa Wallace (D-Rockford).

“At a time when one-fifth of hate crimes reported to the FBI are committed against LGBTQ people, the Illinois General Assembly sent a powerful bipartisan message today that anti-LGBTQ stigma must not carry over to the courtroom,” said Brian C. Johnson, CEO of Equality Illinois.

“We thank Sen. Biss and Rep. Wallace for championing SB 1761. The lives of LGBTQ Illinoisans will be better because of the legislation. Now we call on Gov. Rauner to quickly sign the bill,” Johnson said.

Under the bill, defendants would not be able to use a victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity as an excuse to receive a reduced murder charge. When SB 1761 is approved by the governor, Illinois would become the second state in the country to legislatively curtail the effectiveness of these defenses that allows defendants to justify violence against LGBTQ people by blaming the victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity. California legislatively adopted a panic defense ban in 2014.

LGBTQ panic defenses have been used in Illinois since 1972. While rare, the cases are shocking and based in irrational and deep-seated fears and stereotypes of LGBTQ people. In 2013, after a review of the use of panic defenses, the American Bar Association adopted a resolution calling on state governments to legislatively curtail the availability and effectiveness of the LGBTQ panic defenses.

SB 1761 was supported by the Anti-Defamation League, Illinois State’s Attorneys Association, Office of the Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, Office of the Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, National Association of Social Workers-Illinois Chapter, AIDS Foundation of Chicago, and SEIU Healthcare Illinois Indiana.

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