Perhaps you have heard of the “Twinkie Defense.” The term derives from the 1979 trial of Dan White, a former San Francisco Supervisor who, following a dispute with San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk, shot and killed both men at the San Francisco City Hall. Mr. White’s defense was that he suffered from “diminished capacity” due to his depression. His defense attorneys argued that among Mr. White’s symptoms of depression was his consumption of unhealthy sugary foods. The press invented the “Twinkie Defense” even though Twinkies were never mentioned at trial.
Mr. White, who was charged with first degree murder, was convicted of the lesser offense of voluntary manslaughter. He was not convicted of murder due to the successful argument that Mr. White suffered from depression and thus acted with diminished capacity. The defense did not argue that Mr. White’s mental state was impaired because he ate Twinkies, as urban legend tells the story; rather the ultimately successful defense was that Mr. White’s state of mind due to his depression negated premeditation, which was a required element to convict on first degree murder. Diminished capacity is something less than insanity.
But that fake news story about the Twinkie Defense took on a life of its own.