Hostess Closes: The Death of the Twinkie Defense? - The Chicago Criminal Law Blog

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Hostess Closes: The Death of the Twinkie Defense?

There was good (and bad) news from Hostess today. Maybe childhood obesity will trend downward a bit after the snack cake maker ceases operations. That's right. No more Twinkies. No more HoHos. No more Ding-Dongs.

And for many, this is tragic news. Another mainstay of our childhoods has been destroyed. Rest in peace, yellow fluffy indestructible goodness. You will be missed.

But does this tragedy also mean the end of sugar-fueled asinine criminal defense theories? Not likely. In fact, the infamous Twinkie Defense, which has since become a pejorative term for any unusual and unconventional legal defense, didn't actually blame Twinkies for the defendant's actions.

The urban legend is that the defense argued that murderer Dan White, a conservative San Francisco politician, ate so many Twinkies that he was driven into an insane sugar-fueled rage that ended with the deaths of Harvey Milk, a gay politician, and the Mayor of San Francisco, George Moscone.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Twinkies may not have even been a significant part of the defense. The actual defense was that White was suffering from extreme depression, which was evidenced in part by his increased consumption of sugary treats, including HoHos and Ding Dongs. Twinkies were only mentioned in passing by a psychiatrist, who testified that White's bipolar mood swings led to a depression, which led to a change in lifestyle, which led to a change in diet, which exacerbated his depression. The example of junk food cited by the expert witness was "coke and Twinkies." White had previously been an advocate of exercise and a healthy diet.

The story, and the legal legend, took off from there.

White, by the way, was still convicted. Though the jury found that his depression prevented him from possessing the requisite intent necessary for murder, he was convicted of voluntary manslaughter and sent to prison, albeit on a shorter sentence than one would receive for a double homicide.

So will this be the end of the Twinkie Defense? Not exactly. As long as there are indefensible defendants, creative attorneys will still devise Twinkie Defenses. They'll just have to pick a new snack food to blame.

Snickers defense, anyone?

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