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Washington passes ban on gay and trans panic defenses for homicide

The state's measure is named after Nikki Kuhnhausen, a 17-year-old transgender woman who was killed in Washington last year.

OLYMPIA, Wash. — A measure prohibiting homicide defendants from claiming a defense based on panic over a victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity has been passed by lawmakers in Washington state.

Nine states — California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Nevada, New Jersey New York and Rhode Island — have legislatively banned the use of gay or transgender panic as a legal defense.

Image: Nikki Kuhnhausen
Nikki Kuhnhausen.Vancouver Police Dept.

The Washington measure, passed by the Senate on a bipartisan 46-3 vote Wednesday, is named after Nikki Kuhnhausen, a transgender teen who was killed last year, The Columbian reported.

Kuhnhausen, 17, disappeared in early June and her remains were discovered Dec. 7, southeast of Battle Ground. A Vancouver man has been charged with second-degree murder and malicious harassment, which is a hate crime in Washington.

Authorities the Vancouver teenager was strangled after her assailant learned she was transgender. He has pleaded not guilty. There was no immediate indication if he will attempt to use a “panic” defense.

The bill, which passed the House earlier this month on a 90-5 vote, would block a defendant from using a defense based on discovery or disclosure of the victim’s actual or perceived gender identity or sexual orientation and would prevent a claim of “diminished capacity” because the defendant did not fully comprehend the nature and gravity of the alleged crime.

The legislation now goes to Gov. Jay Inslee for his signature.

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