File:Hostess twinkies.jpg

In jurisprudence, "Twinkie defense" is a derisive[1] label for a criminal defendant's claims that some unusual biological factor entered into the causes or motives of an alleged crime. 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.


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 become slovenly in appearance. Normally a fitness fanatic and health food advocate, White had also been consuming Twinkies and 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 argued for a ruling of diminished capacity. White was thus judged incapable of the premeditation required for a murder conviction, and was convicted of voluntary manslaughter instead. The verdict was unpopular, leading to the White Night Riots.

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 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 symptomatic of and perhaps exacerbating an existing depression.[5]

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

Opinion from the Supreme CourtEdit

During oral Supreme Court arguments in United States v. Gonzalez-Lopez (No. 05-352) in April 2006, Justice Antonin Scalia referenced the Twinkie defense in discussion of a defendant's right to counsel of choice: "Template:Interp I don't want a competent lawyer. I want a lawyer who's going to get me off. I want a lawyer who will invent the Twinkie defense Template:Interp I would not consider the Twinkie defense an invention of a competent lawyer Template:Interp but I want a lawyer who's going to win for me."[7]

See also Edit


  1. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Pogash, Carol. "Myth of the 'Twinkie defense'", San Francisco Chronicle, 2003-11-23, p. D-1. Retrieved on 2007-03-20. 
  2. San Francisco Chronicle, May 10, 1979
  3. Krassner, Paul. "Ice Cream Treat for Pedophiles", Adult Video News, 2006-08-01. Retrieved on 2007-02-28. 
  4. Snopes: The Twinkie Defense
  5. FindLaw for Legal Professionals - Case Law, Federal and State Resources, Forms, and Code
  6. United States v. Gonzalez-Lopez (4/18/06)

Further readingEdit

External linksEdit


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