Twinkie defense

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The term "Twinkie defense" is an umbrella term that, in the most general sense, refers to an unconventional defensive argument. The term originated from the 1979 trial of Dan White, a San Francisco politician, who was charged with first-degree murder. A testifying psychiatrist pointed out that White's consumption of sugary foods, such as Twinkies, could lead to diminished capacity. Using this testimony, White's lawyer was successfully able to persuade the jury that White lacked the premeditation and deliberation elements necessary to establish first-degree murder. As a result, White was ultimately convicted of a lighter offense of involuntary manslaughter

The legitimacy of Twinkie defenses has been subject to debate. Indeed, after White's trial, the California legislature amended its penal code to soften the intent requirements for first-degree murder such that subsequent defendants could not rely on White's Twinkie defense. Indeed, California's penal code now states, in part, that to prove the killing was “deliberate and premeditated,” it is not necessary to prove the defendant maturely and meaningfully reflected upon the gravity of the defendant’s act. 

The term "Twinkie defense" has been used in various contexts, such as describing "outrageous" medical-related defenses. The term has also notably been associated with a defendant's right to choose his or her own counsel. During the oral argument of United States v. Gonzalez-Lopez, Justice Antonin Scalia emphasized the desirability of a counsel who would be able to "invent the Twinkie defense."

[Last updated in September of 2021 by the Wex Definitions Team]