Hate Crimes Not “Panic”
June 28, 2006, 1:48 pm
Filed under: gay and lesbian

Sylvia Guerrero in passionate testimony before the Sacramento, CA, Senate Committee on Public Safety, asked lawmakers to support the Gwen Araujo Justice for Victims Act. The bill passed by a 4-2 margin and now moves to the Senate Appropriations Committee in August.

The bill, authored by Assemblymember Sally Lieber (D-San Jose) and sponsored by Equality California (EQCA), would limit the application of the so-called “panic strategy,” used by defendants charged with violent crimes; it is a strategy whereby defendants seek to reduce their culpability for violent crimes by arguing that they panicked upon discovering the victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity. The bill states that the use of bias to influence the proceedings of a criminal trial is inconsistent with the public policy of California and includes a jury instruction to that effect. The bill also includes funding for training district attorneys in how to address attempts to use the “panic strategy.”

At the hearing, Guerrero spoke eloquently about the need to ensure that those who commit heinous acts of violence, like those inflicted upon her late daughter Gwen, are not allowed to appeal to bias and prejudice as a way to avoid punishment for their crimes.

“Since my daughter was killed, my family and I have spent literally thousands of hours working hard to make sure that California is a state where everyone is respected and treated fairly,” said Sylvia Guerrero. “The Gwen Araujo Justice for Victims Act will really help us in our work.”

In October 2002, Gwen Araujo, a 17-year old transgender teenager from Newark, California, was attending a party when four men discovered she was biologically male. The men beat her to death and then buried her in a shallow grave. On January 27, 2006, three of the four defendants were sentenced in the slaying. Michael Magidson and Jose Merel, were convicted of second degree murder and sentenced to 15 years to life and Jason Cazares, received a six-year term. Jaron Nabors, plead guilty and received an 11-year sentence in exchange for testifying against his accomplices.

“By providing funding to train district attorney’s on how to effectively deal with the so-called “panic strategy” and telling juries that they cannot allow bias against the victim due to their gender, sexual orientation, race or religion to influence their verdict, this legislation is an important step forward in the effort to ensure that those who commit hate crimes are properly punished,” said Equality California Legislative Advocate Alice Kessler who testified along with Sylvia Guerrero.

-from Equality California


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