Gov. Jay Inslee signed into law today a bill that will prevent a defendant from using so-called panic defenses upon discovering a victim’s gender identity or sexual orientation.
House Bill 1687 has been named “The Nikki Kuhnhausen Act” following last year’s killing of Vancouver transgender teen Nikki Kuhnhausen.
The bill 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. The bill would prevent a claim of “diminished capacity” because the defendant did not fully comprehend the nature and gravity of the alleged crime.
Kuhnhausen, 17, disappeared in early June. Her remains were discovered Dec. 7 after a human skull was found in the woods at Larch Mountain, southeast of Battle Ground.
David Y. Bogdanov of Vancouver has been charged with second-degree murder and malicious harassment, which is a hate crime in Washington. Authorities allege Bogdanov strangled the Vancouver teenager after learning she was transgender.
“The name of this law honors Nikki’s memory and keeps our focus on addressing the disproportionate amount of violence faced by the LGBTQ community,” Sen. Derek Stanford, D-Bothell, the legislation’s primary sponsor, said in a statement released after Inslee signed the bill. “This law makes it clear that such violence is inexcusable.”
Stanford sponsored HB 1687 last year as a House member and was able to move it through the Senate after his appointment to that chamber in July.
“Just finding out someone’s gender or sexual orientation should never be a justification for attacking that person,” Stanford said in his statement. “Sadly, some people have used this excuse to justify violent assaults. This law will make sure that these criminals will be held accountable for their violence.”
Both the House and Senate approved the legislation by large bipartisan majorities, although some lawmakers questioned if the legislation was necessary since a panic defense has never been used in Washington.
According to an article posted on the American Bar Association’s website, eight states — California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Nevada, New York and Rhode Island — have legislatively banned the use of gay or transgender panic as a legal defense, as of July 1, 2019.
New Jersey became the ninth state to ban panic defenses on Jan. 21 when Gov. Phil Murphy signed legislation that was unanimously approved by the state assembly and senate.