If you’ve ever gotten the giggles in a place where having the giggles is really inappropriate, you’ll understand how the judge, attorneys and onlookers felt when a defendant, standing meekly before the court, was trying to explain why he killed his wife. “Your Honor,” he said, “She just wouldn’t shut up, man.” It was a silly defense, and it didn’t work, but it sure lightened the mood in the courtroom. Then there was a guy who tried to get the judge to believe that “zombies” made him commit his crime. Zombies. While these defenses are both ridiculous legal maneuvers that didn’t work, not all outlandish defenses fail. A few have actually served the defendant well.
5 The Mario Brothers Made Me Do It
In 2005, an Alabama man was convicted of a triple murder because, as his lawyer argued, his client spent time manipulating cartoonish thugs while “playing video games from the ‘Grand Theft Auto’ series, in which players shoot police officers and steal cars.” Back in the day, Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck suffered a lot of physical abuse by shady characters with Acme products, but it’s doubtful those scenes ever inspired anyone to hit a duck over the head with an anvil or blow up a bunny with a musket. The contemplative, philosophical cop-killer sagely opined that life is but a video game. The judge and jury, undoubtedly people who were more likely to identify with Atari than “Grand Theft Auto,” rejected the defendant, sagacious cliche notwithstanding.
4 The Patriot’s Defense
History is rife with stories of Norwegian Vikings going on the rampage and taking over villages hither and yon. Though not a Viking, Anders Breivik went on a rampage and killed 77 people during a 2011 terrorist attack in Oslo. He claimed it was self-defense and in the defense of Norway, which was being taken over by immigrants who were planning ethnic cleansing to rid Norway of Norwegians. Here’s where it gets really weird: It would appear to the untrained eye that the attorney was mounting an insanity defense but, no, he argued the exact opposite, saying that Breivik was sane at the time and had his reasons for doing what he did. Breivik stated, “It’s we who should decide what kind of a society we want; it’s not the terrorists.” Hmm, something’s rotten in the state next to Denmark.
3 The Sleepwalking Defense
The sleepwalking defense was first used in 1846 by a somnambulist who killed a prostitute and created arsonous mayhem in Boston before heading out to New Orleans. His lawyer argued that “perhaps he was sleepwalking.” If you think that’s weird, get this: The jury bought it then and many are buying it now. The most ridiculous use of this defense is the 2001 case in which a commercial fisherman murdered his paramour and told police that the knife wounds on her body looked just like the wounds on a freshly killed shark. He reported dreaming about wrestling with an intruder. So, was Jaws the intruder? We’re confused.
2 PMS Defense
PMS could stand for Pretty Messed-up Sistah, but it doesn’t. The PMS defense has been used three times in the United States to acquit a drunk driver and plea out two others: a child abuser and a woman who assaulted her roommate. The third one wasn’t so lucky, as the judge didn’t buy the defense. However, in 1995 the American Psychiatric Association added PMS to its list of real depressive disorders opening the door to so many possibilities. Naturally, feminists around the country went on the offensive, saying the presence of Aunt Flo doesn’t cause all women to act insane. “It’s fair that PMS should be admissible in a court of law, because really, for many women, there’s nothing they can do to control it,” said California attorney and feminist activist Gloria Allred. Look out, guys, now she’s got an official get-out-of-jail-free card.
1 The Twinkie Defense
The 1978 murder of two San Francisco icons, then Mayor George Moscone and gay activist Harvey Milk, propelled the so-called “Twinkie Defense” into the national conversation. At trial, defense attorney Douglas Schmidt convinced a jury that defendant Dan White was suffering from a mental problem and had turned to sugary sweets as a coping mechanism. That this former health nut gorged on Twinkies in his time of angst was testament to his insanity. The media went wild and reported that White committed murder because he was jacked-up on sugar, but the lawyer never really said that Twinkies were responsible for his insanity. It didn’t matter. Once the public heard that Twinkies may have led someone to commit murder, they ran with it. The insanity defense, however, worked well and White received a light sentence after which he committed suicide. If his suicide had anything to do with a premonition of the future closing of the Hostess Cupcake factory is anyone’s guess.