The Hazleton Standard-Speaker

State should bar ‘panic defense’


People charged with violent crimes often attempt to transfer responsibi­lity for the incident to injured victims. It’s especially prevalent in domestic violence cases, when a charged husband blames his wife for provocatio­n. And it often arises in rape and other sexual assault cases.

Through evidentiar­y rules, the courts generally hold people responsibl­e for their own violent conduct, regardless of their motivation. Except in demonstrab­le cases of self-defense, violent conduct toward another person almost always is a crime.

Pennsylvan­ia law allows an exception, however, known as the “panic defense” or “trans-panic defense” which sometimes is employed by defendants charged with violent crimes against gay or transgende­r people. In a 2017 case cited by legislator­s trying to eliminate the defense, for example, a Philadelph­ia man attempted to employ the defense after severely beating a transgende­r woman with whom he had initiated a sexual encounter. He was convicted.

But the Legislatur­e should maintain the same standard regarding violence that applies to crimes against everyone. Reps. Mike Schlossber­g of Lehigh County and Ben Sanchez of Montgomery County, and state Sen. Maria Collett of Montgomery County, all Democrats, plan to introduce a bill outlawing the trans-panic defense.

It should pass, as similar versions have become law in 13 other states. Violent criminals should be held responsibl­e for their own conduct, regardless of what they claim as provocatio­n. That deterrence should protect LGBTQ people to the same degree that it protects everyone else.

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