The National LGBT Bar Association and FreeState Justice celebrate the final passage of SB46 and HB231 banning the horrendous LGBTQ “panic” defense in Maryland, The Free State. We appreciate and thank our chief champions, Senator Clarence K. Lam and Delegate Julie Palakovich Carr for their strong and effective advocacy in support of this measure. For over a decade, the National LGBT Bar Association has worked to ban this defense throughout the United States, and we are extremely pleased that Maryland will soon become the 14h jurisdiction to speak out against this relic from the darkest of ages. We look forward to the legislation becoming law with Governor Larry Hogan’s signature.
Despite the progress that has been made for LGBTQ+ equality in recent years, the LGBTQ “panic” defenses is—alas—not a thing of the past. As was shown by FreeState Justice Legal Director C.P. Hoffman during the debate on this bill, violent perpetrators in Maryland have gone free or have had their charges reduced when they kill or violently assault LGBTQ+ victims, simply because of an archaic and prejudiced argument that claims that the sudden revelation or realization of the victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity reasonably provoked the violence in the heat of passion or otherwise excused the violence.
National LGBT Bar Executive Director D’Arcy Kemnitz, who testified in support of the bill, stated, “As is true of many other marginalized communities, bias and prejudice against LGBTQ+ people continue to be pervasive in our justice system. It is as simple and complicated as this: LGBTQ+ people are being violently harmed and viciously murdered simply because of who they are, and the noxious LGBTQ ‘panic’ defense allows their attackers to escape the criminal sentences that would otherwise be imposed on them but for the sexual orientation or gender identity of their victims. We are grateful that the Maryland legislature voted on a bipartisan basis to close a legal loophole and make equal justice under the law a living, breathing reality for LGBTQ+ victims of violence.”
“While Maryland rightly condemns acts of violence against members of the LGBTQ community and treats many of these things as hate crimes, criminal defendants are still able to rely on a panic defense to in many cases to get their sentences reduced from what it would have been otherwise. We have seen multiple cases in Maryland where someone was charged with first-degree murder and they were able to get that reduced to second-degree murder or to either voluntary or involuntary manslaughter through the use of a panic-type defense,” Legal Director Hoffman testified to the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee in February.
“No longer will violent criminals in Maryland be able to use the blatantly discriminatory LGBTQ ‘panic’ defense. This is simply a despicable legal tactic that is solely designed to play into longstanding stigmas about and prejudices against the LGBTQ+ community. To justify and excuse violence and murder as a result of the victim’s status as a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer person is to deem LGBTQ+ lives as inherently less worthy, less human, and less deserving of justice as compared to those who do not identify as LGBTQ+. Passage of this bill sends a strong message that our LGBTQ+ identity should not be a defensible reason for assault or murder,” said National LGBT Bar Association Director Kemnitz.
FreeState Justice and the National LGBT Bar Association worked tirelessly in Maryland over the course of two years – the first year was unsuccessful due to covid – to pass this legislation, and we are grateful for the incredible leadership shown by our legislative champions on this issue and for the valuable work of the other patrons and supporters too numerous to mention. In addition to the bill sponsors Senator Clarence K. Lam and Delegate Julie Palakovich Carr, special recognition goes out to Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee Chair, William C. Smith, Jr., who held a vote on the Transgender Day of Visibility, March 31st, 2021 wherein the bill passed unanimously through committee. The champions developed an amazing coalition advocating for this bill which included the ACLU of Maryland, Annapolis Pride, Baltimore Safe Haven, FreeState Justice, Human Rights Campaign, Lambda Legal, the Maryland Psychological Association, the Maryland State’s Attorneys’ Association, Metro DC PFLAG, NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland, the National LGBT Bar Association, PFLAG Salisbury, the Women’s Law Center of Maryland.
Since its founding in 1989, the National LGBT Bar Association has been the legal voice for the LGBTQ+ community and currently represents tens of thousands of LGBTQ+ attorneys, judges, law students, activists, and other legal professionals across the U.S. It has over 40 state and local affiliated bar organizations. Additionally, it has almost 100 affiliated law school student groups, including student organizations at both Maryland law schools.
FreeState Justice is Maryland’s statewide advocacy non-profit that seeks to improve the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer Marylanders. FreeState’s mission combines advocacy and direct legal services with education and outreach to ensure that the low-income LGBTQ community in Maryland receives fair treatment in the law and society.