Monday, July 24, 2006

Gay Panic Defense

This is an interesting CNN article about the use of the "Gay Panic Defense," where a defendent justifies their crime based on the sexuality of the victim.

Laws like the ones being proposed give too little credit to juries. It's assuming immediately that a jury would be unable to overcome prejudice towards homosexuals and would thus excuse their murder.

Here's what I find interesting:
California's bill also would instruct juries that gay panic defenses are inconsistent with state laws protecting gays, lesbians and transgenders from discrimination.

It was prompted by the murder of 17-year-old Gwen Araujo, a transgender teenager who was beaten and strangled in 2002 after two men with whom she'd had anal sex learned she was biologically male.

Apparently, the prosecutor won 2nd-degree murder charges in that case. Which strikes me as appropriate. I have sympathy for the defense in such a situation. I'd be pretty upset, too, if I found out that I'd just unknowingly had sex with a man. It goes without saying, but that doesn't excuse the murder.

I'm not a law expert, short of the many hours of Law and Order I've watched. Murder that isn't pre-meditated would either fall under the 3rd-degree category, or under voluntary manslaughter. I'm assuming the latter carries a lesser sentence.

The prosecutor was able to show that the murder was premeditated. I suppose that would boil down to the specifics of the case, so I can't comment on that in general. But I think the premise of a law which would prevent this kind of defense is poor.

As I understand it, the point of the "Gay Panic Defense" is to argue for a lesser charge, i.e. to prove a crime of passion, that it wasn't premeditated. This law would essentially deny that a person could be, to put it bluntly, grossed out by homosexuality. This puts homosexuality in yeat another "special category" of law, along with things such as "hate crimes." I don't think such laws have a place in this country and I don't think they'll do anything useful, aside from limiting juries from considering evidence that may or may not be relevant to a case.

Okay, let's try this from a different tack.

There is an episode of Family Guy where Brian is a drug sniffing dog for the airports and Quagmire, a pilot, wonders how good he is. Here is the dialog:
Quagmire: Hey Brian, what's with the Johnny Law routine?
Joe: Say hello to our newest narc. He's a natural.
Quagmire: Oh yeah? How good are you?
Brian: *Sniffs Quagmire*. You're back from Manila. You
had lumpia for dinner. Then you made love to two Phillipeno
women *sniffs* . . . and a man.
Quagmire: You mean three Phillipeno women?
Brian: *Just stares at Quagmire*
Quagmire: *A look of horror appears on his face. He runs
screaming from the scene.*

It is with this sense of "gay panic" that I sympathize. The "Oh crap, what did I just do?" panic. Not the "I just had sex with a dude? Crap, I have to kill him!"

If it's not obvious by now, I completely misunderstood the "Gay Panic" defense. The CNN article did not articulate and I probably should have learned more about it before speaking. Well, that's what blogging will get you sometimes.

As I understood it, the "Gay Panic" defense would be used to argue a lesser sentence, arguing crimes of passion rather than premeditated assaults or murders. I was wrong on that count, it was "I had no control over my actions so I should get off scot-free."

I don't endorse such a defense for getting away with murder. If you read the original post, I never did.

In any case, I still think the law is unnecessary, mostly because a good prosecutor will, during the jury selection phase, eliminate jurors who think that it's acceptable to murder homosexuals. The system is already designed to accomplish this, so why is a law necessary?


-Murphy said...

This law would essentially deny that a person could be, to put it bluntly, grossed out by homosexuality.

Not really. In fact, it denies nothing of the sort. The "Gay formatting holds for a great majority of cases) arguing not that a murder was not premeditated, but rather that the accused is not culpable for his actions, because he has lost the ability to judge right from wrong in the aftermath of being hit on by a dude (one of the higher profile cases was sparked by the murder of Scott Amedure, who admitted on national television that he was attracted to the guy that eventually killed him). Whether or not it's premeditated has nothing at all to do with the Gay Panic Defense.

I don't really have a problem with defending attorneys using the Gay Panic defense, I just hope that prosecutors can debunk it sufficiently, and that the prejudicies of juries against homosexuals don't enter into it.

In Gwen (née EDward) Araujo's case, the guys found out at a party (at which the guys had decided to forcefully check out whether or not Araujo had male genitalia, suggesting that they'd expected such and that this wasn't entirely without premeditation) quite a while after they'd had anal sex with her that she was a guy, then choked her (with bare hands), beat her with a frying pan, canned tomatoes and barbells, strangled her with a rope, hog tied her, threw her in a truck and buried her in a park. Autopsy was inconclusive as to when she died.

And you sympathize with the defendants? I don't care if she did have sex with these guys without revealing her biological gender, which is deceitful and indefensible, what they did to her was abominable. Pretty upset does not justify that kind of savage behavior. Pretty upset would justify kicking her out of the party, not talking to her anymore and putting the whole thing behind them. Not beating her with a frying pan and strangling her until she was dead, then burying her in a park.

I imagine that quite a number of people that get shot, stabbed, beaten or otherwise murdered probably did something to anger the murderer. I don't think I'd say that I sympathize with the murderer though, simply because they were angry.

I'd be pretty upset, too, if I found out that I'd just unknowingly had sex with a man. It goes without saying, but that doesn't excuse the murder.

May I suggest you try to figure out who you're having sex with beforehand, then? It would seem that responsibility on the part of the killers in figuring out who they're having sex with before they actually go through with it would have prevented this whole thing. Unless, of course, they decided to beat her for being transgendered.

Hal said...

My sympathy for them was limited to the "gay panic" part. In no way do I condone murder (How many times do I have to write that?), especially one so obviously savage.

I suppose it might have helped if I'd known those details before I wrote about it.

The CNN article didn't seem to clearly indicate that defendents wanted complete exoneration for their crimes. I assumed it was just an attempt to argue a lesser sentence.

-Murphy said...

How many times do I have to write that?

So you sympathize with the idea that they were driven temporarily insane by the idea that they had been deceived by someone they had sex with without checking to see if that person was a dude, but don't sympathize with the actions that, according to their defense, they had no control over? It's one thing to think that Gwen's actions were inexcusable (they were), but it's kind of implicit in "sympathy for the defendants" that you understand why they did what they did, and think that that's somehow ok.

I apologize if I've misread that though, but it did allow me to get the facts about what actually happened out there.