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Councilmember Grosso re-introduces legislation to ban the use of “gay/trans panic” defenses in D.C.

For Immediate Release:
September 17, 2019
 
Contact:
Matthew Nocella, 202.724.8105 - mnocella@dccouncil.us

Councilmember Grosso re-introduces legislation to ban the use of “gay/trans panic” defenses in D.C.

Washington, D.C. – At the D.C. Council’s first legislative meeting after summer recess, Councilmember David Grosso re-introduced his legislation to counter the use of “gay/trans panic” defenses, which seek to utilize the stigma associated with the sexual orientation, gender identity, or other identity expression of victims to excuse violent crimes.

“I am a passionate supporter of the human rights of criminal defendants, a fair and swift trial, and for alternatives to incarceration,” said Grosso. “All of that is possible without resorting to a defense that is premised on bias against lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender individuals.”

The Tony Hunter and Bella Evangelista Panic Defense Prohibition Act of 2019 would curtail the availability and effectiveness of defenses that seek to partially or completely excuse crimes such as murder and assault on the grounds that the victim’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or other inherent identity, is to blame for the defendant’s violent action. The bill also requires an anti-bias jury instruction in criminal trials if requested by the prosecutor or the defendant.

“The bill makes one thing clear: a defense that exploits bias is simply unacceptable,” said Grosso.

Councilmember Grosso originally introduced the bill in February 2017 as the Secure a Fair and Equitable (SAFE) Trial Act. Over the summer, Grosso worked closely with LGBTQ advocates ahead of re-introduction and fulfilled their request to rename the bill in honor of Tony Hunter, a gay man, and Bella Evangelista, a transgender woman.

“LGBTQ+ panic defenses have long stood as a symbol of dangerous and outdated thinking,” said D’Arcy Kemnitz, Executive Director of the National LGBT Bar Association. “The Tony Hunter and Bella Evangelista Panic Defense Prohibition Act of 2019 would send a clear message: Discrimination has no validity in the courtroom.”

“Victims of crime, their families, and their communities experience enough trauma without having to shoulder the blame for their murder or assault or watch their loved one’s name maligned as they seek justice,” said David Mariner, Executive Director of The D.C. Center for the LGBT Community. “I greatly appreciate Councilmember Grosso’s continued engagement with the LGBTQ+ community on this issue and for naming the bill in honor of Tony Hunter and Bella Evangelista–two victims whose cases were marred by the discriminatory statements that are used in the making of these panic defenses.”

“This bill would prohibit the misuse of a victim’s identity as an excuse for perpetrating a murder or violence. The ‘panic’ defense attempts to justify a criminal act motivated by a defendant’s racism, xenophobia, homophobia, transphobia, ableism or other bias. This Act is a necessary step to address an anachronism in our legal system that demeans and devalues the lives of vulnerable people. These defenses simply have no place in our justice system and it is time for them to go,” said Sasha Buchert, Senior Attorney at Lambda Legal.

In August, the Washington Post reported that D.C. saw the highest number of bias-motivated attacks last year and had the highest per capita hate-crime rate of any major city in the country.

“In this time of heightened rhetoric of hate and violence, it is incredibly important that we act to eliminate bias whenever we can. I appreciate the renewed grassroots support for this legislation, including the many letters and resolutions Advisory Neighborhood Commissions have recently approved, and urge the Council to move swiftly,” said Grosso.

Councilmembers Elissa Silverman, Robert White, Brianne Nadeau, Mary Cheh, Brandon Todd, and Charles Allen joined Grosso as co-introducers of the legislation.

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Tony Hunter and Bella Evangelista Panic Defense Prohibition Act of 2019

Tony Hunter and Bella Evangelista Panic Defense Prohibition Act of 2019

Introduced: September 17, 2019

Co-introducers: Councilmembers Elissa Silverman, Robert White, Brianne Nadeau, Mary Cheh, Brandon Todd, and Charles Allen

BILL TEXT | PRESS RELEASE

Summary: To amend Chapter 1 of Title 23 to curtail the availability and effectiveness of defenses that seek to partially or completely excuse crimes such as murder and assault on the grounds that the victim’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or other inherent identity, is to blame for the defendant’s violent action and to require an anti-bias jury instruction in criminal trials if requested by the prosecutor or the defendant.

Councilmember Grosso's Introduction Statement:

Thank you, Chairman Mendelson. Today, along with my colleagues Brianne Nadeau, Robert White, Charles Allen, Brandon Todd, Mary Cheh, and Elissa Silverman, I am introducing the “Tony Hunter and Bella Evangelista Panic Defense Prohibition Act of 2019.”

This legislation would curtail the use of defenses that seek to excuse crimes such as murder and assault on the grounds that the victim’s identity is to blame for the defendant’s violent action.

At the request of community members, we have named the bill after Tony Hunter and Bella Evangelista, two victims whose cases were marred by the discriminatory statements that are used in the making this so-called panic defense.

In 2008, Tony Hunter died after being attacked in Shaw while on his way to a gay bar.

The man arrested for the assault told police that he punched Hunter in self-defense after Hunter touched him in a sexually suggestive way.

There were many other factors in the case that made it complex, but the fact that the assailant blamed the victim’s sexual orientation for the attacker’s violent actions was disturbing and inappropriate.

This argument is known as the “gay panic” defense and it seeks to blame a victim of a violent attack for provoking the violence by making a sexual comment, action, or simply by expressing their identity.

It is used around the country and throughout D.C.’s history.

The same argument has been used by individuals accused of attacking or murdering transgender women, arguing that the victim’s transgender identity amounted to deception and therefor justified a violent response.

That is essentially the argument that the killer of Bella Evangelista made after he killed her in 2003, also in D.C..

This legislation would end the use of such arguments in the District of Columbia.

The American Bar Association has carefully considered this topic and has voted in support of this type of legislation—in fact the Tony Hunter and Bella Evangelista Panic Defense Prohibition Act of 2019 is based on the model language put forward by the ABA.

I am a passionate supporter of the human rights of criminal defendants, a fair and swift trial, and for alternatives to incarceration.

All of that is possible without resorting to a defense that is premised on bias against lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender individuals

A defense that exploits bias simply should not be acceptable.

This bill is not limited to LGBT victims, but also covers any situation where an individual might seek to excuse their violent actions on the basis of another person’s identity.

The bill also requires that a jury be instructed to not let bias play a role in their deliberations during a criminal trial if requested by the prosecutor or the defendant.

In this time of heightened rhetoric of hate and violence, it is incredibly important that we act to eliminate bias whenever we can.

Copy of Hunter-Evangelista - Twitter.png

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Judiciary Committee holds hearing on Grosso bill to modernize criminal record sealing

For Immediate Release:
December 14, 2017
 
Contact:
Matthew Nocella, 202.724.8105 - mnocella@dccouncil.us

 

Judiciary Committee holds hearing on Grosso bill to modernize criminal record sealing

Washington, D.C. – The following is a statement from Councilmember David Grosso (I-At Large) on today’s Judiciary & Public Safety Committee hearing on several measures to improve the process of sealing criminal records in the District of Columbia, including Councilmember Grosso’s Record Sealing Modernization Amendment Act of 2017:

"I am extremely encouraged by the broad agreement heard in today’s hearing that improvements can be made to the way the District of Columbia handles the sealing of criminal records.  Proposals from myself, Councilmembers Robert White and Trayon White, and Mayor Muriel Bowser, demonstrate the strong will within both branches to move forward with reforms that will remove barriers to successful reentry for our residents with criminal records.

"My legislation is the result of extensive research and consultation.  I recognize that it pushes the envelope. The negative impacts of criminal records harm tens of thousands of residents of our city, as do the decades of discriminatory criminal justice policies and practices, disproportionately affecting African Americans. We have an obligation to confront it and seek bold remedies. My hope is that we can take the proposals discussed today and bring them together into one reform package to be advanced in the new year.

"All of the community members, advocates, and especially returning citizens who contributed to the development of the Record Sealing Modernization Amendment Act of 2017 or testified today deserve thanks, and have my deep appreciation for their engagement. I also want to thank Chairperson Charles Allen for holding this important hearing so quickly, as well as Councilmember Robert White, Councilmember Trayon White, and Mayor Bowser for their passion on this issue.  I look forward to working with them and the rest of my colleagues to make these necessary changes a reality."

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Statement of Councilmember Grosso on findings that killing of Terrence Sterling was unjustified

For Immediate Release:
December 5, 2017
 
Contact:
Matthew Nocella, 202.724.8105 - mnocella@dccouncil.us

Statement of Councilmember Grosso on findings that killing of Terrence Sterling was unjustified

Washington, D.C. – The following is a statement by Councilmember David Grosso (I-At Large) on the announcement of the findings of the Use of Force Review Board in the case of Terrence Sterling:

"I welcome the announcement from Chief Newsham today on the conclusions of the Metropolitan Police Department’s Use of Force Review Board regarding the September 2016 killing of Terrence Sterling.  As D.C. strives to improve faith and trust in law enforcement, it is every government official’s and police officer’s obligation to continue to hold MPD members to the highest standard in protecting the communities they serve.

"Though I believe the officer should have been charged by the U.S. Attorney, I supported the mayor and MPD’s request that the officer resign back in August, as well as the full disciplinary review.  That review is now complete. It has been determined that the shooting was unjustified and that the officer should be terminated. This is the right course of action. I hope that it can give those who loved Mr. Sterling some sense of justice.

"I remain committed to further utilization of non-violent methods, along with a public health and community-based approach to policing, in order to prevent incidents like this from happening in the future and rebuild the trust necessary for the safety of all our residents."

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