Don't Panic, or, the Three Burials of Jenny Jones


I'm not sure whether "crime of passion" defenses in general have any place in this here modern world, where wronged wives and husbands have access to many remedies short of violence. But has there ever been any logic at all to the "gay panic" defense? If your reaction to a sexual situation is to murder the other person, doesn't that support, rather than undermine, the idea that you need to be removed from society permanently?

Unlike the apocryphal "Twinkie Defense," gay panic has actually been used in some murder cases, and has arguably allowed the murderers of Jenny Jones Show victim Scott Amedure and transgendered teenager Gwen Araujo to get off with somewhat lighter sentences than they deserved. Along with the Twinkie Defense, it's a useful rallying cry to get gays and lesbians ranting like Dirty Harry against a justice system more concerned about the rights of violent punks than the rights of law-abiding citizens. California and New York are both considering state bills designed to limit use of the gay panic defense. I don't know much about the New York bill, but this Bay Area Reporter story gives the lowdown on AB1160, a.k.a. the Gwen Araujo Justice for Victims Act.

Beyond a general distaste for legislative buttinski-ism, I've got no beef with a law to eliminate this rarely successful defense, but I'm not sure how the Araujo bill would achieve that goal. The proposal would "declare" that it's against California policy to allow bias to enter into a jury's decision; issue new jury instructions ordering jurors to be free of bias; and have the attorney general write up a pamphlet for prosecutors on how to deal with the panic strategy.

The best part of that Bay Area Reporter story, by the way, is its long digression about the Maoist self-criticism one politician had to perform after a gaffe. State Senator Carole Migden (D-SF)—whom I've always enjoyed because every election season she puts up giant billboards of herself that look like "for your consideration" ads for a Daytime Emmy Award nominee—gave a speech supporting the bill, but then grievously misused an LGBT term of art:

Migden said she has attended different houses of worship as part of the community's effort to build bridges. "I am sometimes just shocked by what is said at the pulpit," she said.

Then, Migden misspoke, referring to the murder of Guerrero's "son." Guerrero immediately corrected Migden, who immediately apologized.

"I'm terribly sorry. I didn't mean your son," Migden told Guerrero. "I was just looking at different images in my mind."

"We're going to be with you," Migden added.

Migden apologized again for misspeaking at the conclusion of the hearing a few minutes later.

Asked about the incident, Lieber attributed it to a long day of hearings on numerous bills. "I thought it was great Sylvia jumped in and made the clarification," she said. "I think it was the case of a very long meeting."

You know, if some politician accidentally called me a woman, I still wouldn't think it was worth five paragraphs of correction. But maybe I'm just a big pussy.