What Is the 'Twinkie Defense'? - FindLaw Blotter
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What Is the 'Twinkie Defense'?

Hostess' bankruptcy is raising fears that HoHos may soon be history. But the Twinkie will never be forgotten by the criminal justice system, thanks to the so-called "Twinkie defense."

What is the Twinkie defense? It dates back to a 1979 murder case in San Francisco (dramatized in the movie "Milk") in which ex-cop-turned-politician Dan White shot and killed fellow politicians Harvey Milk and George Moscone. News reports called White's defense the "Twinkie defense," but in reality, Twinkies were barely even mentioned at trial.

White was eventually acquitted of murder, though he didn't entirely escape justice. While Hostess snack cakes were indeed part of the evidence, they weren't used in the way people think.

During the trial, White's lawyers asserted their client's "diminished capacity" as a reason why Milk and Moscone's homicides technically weren't murder.

Under the law, murder requires a killing to be both intentional and either planned or committed when the killer was in his right mind. People who kill when they are emotionally disturbed are often convicted of a slightly lesser crime, voluntary manslaughter.

As evidence of diminished capacity, White's lawyers presented evidence the he was severely depressed and suffered from mental illness as a result.

Defense experts testified about White's depression, and one therapist mentioned that White had been eating more Twinkies and other Hostess treats, reports the San Francisco Chronicle. That was presented as evidence of White's depression.

It wasn't a serious legal conclusion, and there was a lot of other evidence of White's depression at trial. But reporters called it the "Twinkie defense," and it caught on in popular lore.

White was eventually convicted of voluntary manslaughter as a result of his depression. While that kind of mental illness isn't enough for a finding of not guilty by reason of insanity, it was enough to lessen the offense.

So the "Twinkie defense" is actually a misnomer, and it's not something that will come up at trial. But as buzz builds about Hostess' bankruptcy and the fate of its beloved snacks, you now have a good water-cooler fact for next time you chew the fat about Twinkies.

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