Harvey Milk, Dan White, and the "Twinkie Defense" | The Hoglawyer

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Harvey Milk, Dan White, and the "Twinkie Defense"

Posted By on Tue, Feb 24, 2009 at 1:27 PM

The day before the Academy Awards, I was fortunate enough to see "Milk" with my intreped companion. If you haven't seen this movie, I suggest you do. A very moving story of an unlikely politician and civil rights martyr, Harvey Milk. Although I knew Milk the first openly gay people elected to public office in the U.S., I had no idea the struggle he faced to achieve his position as a

 

Twinkie defense From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia Jump to: navigation, search The phrase "Twinkie defense" comes from Twinkies, a junk food product high in sugar.

In jurisprudence, "Twinkie defense" is a derisive[1] label for a criminal defendant's claims that some unusual biological component factored into the causes or motives of an alleged crime.[citation needed] According to this defense, the biological factor should mitigate the defendant's responsibility, and he therefore should not be held criminally liable for actions which violated the law, or the criminal liability should be reduced to a lesser offense. While biological factors may certainly influence behavior, the label of "Twinkie defense" implies that the specific biological factor is one that most people would view as not being sufficient to account for criminal activity, such as the effects of allergies, minor stimulants such as coffee and nicotine, sugar and/or vitamins.

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[edit] Origins

The expression derives from the 1979 trial of Dan White, a former San Francisco, California (U.S.) Supervisor who assassinated Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk, on November 27, 1978. At the trial, noted psychiatrist Martin Blinder testified that White had been depressed at the time of the crime, and pointed to several factors indicating White's depression: he had quit his job; he shunned his wife; and although normally clean-cut, he had become slovenly in appearance. Furthermore, White had previously been a fitness fanatic and health food advocate, but had begun consuming junk food and sugar-laden soft drinks like Coca-Cola. As an incidental note, Blinder mentioned theories that elements of diet could worsen existing mood swings.[2] Another psychiatrist, George Solomon, testified that White had "exploded" and was "sort of on automatic pilot" at the time of the killings.[3] The fact that White had killed Moscone and Milk was not challenged, but — in part because of the testimony from Blinder and other psychiatrists — the defense successfully persuaded the jury that White's capacity for rational thought had been diminished; the jurors found White incapable of the premeditation required for a murder conviction, and instead convicted him of voluntary manslaughter. Public protests over the verdict led to the White Night Riots.

Twinkies themselves were never mentioned in the courtroom, but did prove an effective target for derision from those who found the argument unacceptable. In stories covering the trial, satirist Paul Krassner had played up the angle of the Twinkie,[2] and he would later claim credit for coining the term "Twinkie defense".[4] The day after the verdict, columnist Herb Caen wrote in the San Francisco Chronicle about the police support for White (a former policeman himself) and their "dislike (understatement) of homosexuals" and mentioned "the Twinkie insanity defense" in passing.[2] News stories published after the trial, however, frequently reported the defense arguments inaccurately, claiming that the defense had presented junk food as the cause of White's depression and/or diminished capacity, instead of being symptomatic of (and perhaps exacerbating) an existing depression.[5]

As a result of negative publicity from the White case and others, the term diminished capacity was abolished in 1982 by Proposition 8 and the California legislature and was replaced by the term diminished actuality, referring not to the capacity to have a specific intent, but to whether the defendant actually had the required intent to commit the crime with which he or she was charged.[6] Additionally, California's statutory definitions of premeditation and malice required for murder were eliminated by the state's legislature, with the return to common law definitions. By this time, the "Twinkie defense" had become such a common term that one lawmaker had waved a Twinkie in the air while making his point during a debate.[2]

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