The Twinkie Defense – Fact or Fiction

Just about everyone has heard of the Twinkie Defense and it has really become a thing of comedy for those in the Criminal Justice System. But is it a real defense or is this an urban legend that has simply stood the test of time? The fact is that the Twinkie Defense is a term that is used in the industry for any defense that is laughable or that does not have any basis in actual Criminal Law. That is not to say that it was not ever used as a defense, it is because it was used as a defense that it has become a derisive term in the system.

Wind back to 1979 and the case of Dan White who was an ex police officer in San Francisco as well as a firefighter and at the end of his career, a city District Supervisor. He ended up his career by killing the mayor at that time as well as his direct supervisor. Mr. White claimed that he suffered from depression, which lead him to the killings. This is not the first time that a mental illness has been used as a defense in the courts. The insanity plea has been around for decades and has been used effectively and ineffectively for as long.

What makes this case different from others is the actual reason why Mr. White said that he became depressed and it was not because he lost a girlfriend or wife. It was not because a family member passed away, but because there was a change in his diet. He had recently stopped eating healthy meals and food that is thought to be good for you and instead starting loading up on sugary types of food that are definitely not considered good for anybody in excess.


His attorney claimed that Mr. White was on a binge of Twinkies and Coca Colas that he had been living on for quite a long time which caused his depression. Not only had he changed his diet entirely, he had also quit his job, stopped communicating with his wife and had changed his appearance dramatically. He was also a fitness freak that stopped working out and these changes in behavior were corroborated by two separate psychiatrists. Both claimed that Mr. White’s behavioral changes were a direct link to his depression and the consuming of sugary sweets like Twinkies and Coke.

At the end of the trial, Mr. White was not found guilty of Capital Murder or even Murder in the First Degree because the jury declared the he was incapable of rational thought. That rational thought includes the ability to premeditatedly plan to murder someone. He was instead charged with Involuntary Manslaughter which holds a much lighter sentence that the other two charges. Mr. White basically got off with murder because he ate too many Twinkies and drank too many Cokes before he committed his crimes.  This turned out to be a huge controversy in the Criminal Justice System and is why the Twinkie Defense became such a joke and why it is still used today when referring to defenses that are laughable.