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Lis on Law: Addiction — The New 'Twinkie Defense'

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Lis Wiehl











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Why should a 29-year-old former school teacher from Tennessee, already on probation for having sex with a 14-year-old boy, avoid jail time for sending him sexually explicit photos of herself? Simple — because she couldn’t help herself — she’s addicted to sex.

Pamela Rogers, who was under orders not to contact the boy, reportedly continued to send him text messages as well as explicit photos and video of herself. “What I did was wrong,” Rogers tearfully admitted. “I am willing to do anything to rehabilitate myself.”

Meanwhile, a preacher’s son and former university class president from Pennsylvania is hoping to avoid a jail sentence for bank robbery because, his lawyer argues, the “incident was a cry for help” with his internet gambling addiction. Not to be outdone, a Wisconsin attorney argued that his client should receive a lesser sentence because an addiction to crack cocaine had turned “a hard worker” of 13 years into a bank robber.

And when another Pennsylvania man was sent to prison for conspiring with his wife in her sexual assault of a teenage boy, addiction to alcohol was blamed.

So why are so many defendants playing the addiction card? Perhaps because, like the infamous “Twinkie Defense” before it, it just may be crazy enough to work.

In legal terms, "Twinkie Defense" refers to a criminal defendant’s argument that some extraordinary factor caused him or her to commit an alleged crime and therefore, criminal liability should be lessened or waived.

The expression comes from the 1979 murder trial of Dan White, a former San Francisco city supervisor who fatally shot Mayor George Moscone and City Supervisor Harvey Milk on November 27, 1978. During the trial, noted psychiatrist Martin Blinder testified that White had been depressed and was thus incapable of the premeditation required for a murder conviction. As evidence of White’s depression, Dr. Blinder stated that White (who was well known to be a fitness buff) had been uncharacteristically eating Twinkies and drinking Coca-Cola. Ultimately, White was convicted of the lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter and sentenced to a mere seven years and eight months in prison.

Another “success” story involves a Chicago woman who stole $250,000 from an employer to finance her “shopping addiction” and was spared from prison by a federal judge who found that she bought expensive jewelry and clothing to “self-medicate” her depression. A bodybuilder who broke into six Maryland homes, set fire to three of them, and stole cash and jewelry, avoided jail time because, it was reported, his “frenzied” use of anabolic steroids had left him suffering from “organic personality syndrome.” A Florida woman was able to avoid jail time for prostitution after she explained that her reliance on Prozac had resulted in her becoming a “nymphomaniac” (the early 90’s version of today’s “sex addict”) which, in turn, caused her to prostitute herself.

But playing the addiction card to mitigate consequences is not only useful in the criminal context; it can be a nifty public relations tactic as well.

Brandon Davis, the wealthy oil heir and Paris Hilton pal (perhaps best known for being caught on video making crude remarks about Lindsay Lohan) was reported to have entered rehab for substance addiction not because he felt he needed it, but for “public relations” reasons. Apparently, his family encouraged the move to offset the considerable damage his antics had caused to his mother’s personal charity.

And who can forget the December 2003 Patriots vs. Jets game when “Broadway Joe” Namath humiliated himself during a side-line interview with ESPN’s Suzy Kolber? In response to Kolber’s question about his former team’s recent struggles, Namath turned to her and slurred, “I wanna kiss you. I couldn’t care less about the team struggling… I wanna kiss you!” Within weeks, Namath was in rehab for alcohol addiction; a month later he was back on ESPN expressing regret for having done the “wrong thing”; by October 2004, Namath was the subject of a flattering USA Today profile entitled, “’Broadway Joe’ Puts Life Back on Track.” With respect to the “I wanna kiss you” moment, Namath’s agent proclaimed “That probably turned out to be one of the best things that ever happened to Joe.”

Pat O'Brien, co-host of "The Insider," announced he was entering rehab for substance addiction just a day after a series of embarrassing phone messages featuring his distinctive voice surfaced on the Internet. One such message stated, "I want to (expletive) go crazy with you. I want to talk dirty to you...get another woman up...Let's get crazy, get some coke." Several days after getting out of rehab, O'Brien appeared in a prime-time special with talk show therapist Dr. Phil McGraw where he expressed remorse for the voice-mail incident and apologized for what his substance abuse had done to his family. O'Brien returned to work on "The Insider" the next day — just in time for sweeps.

Of course, none of this is to say that addictions should not be taken seriously and that those who seek treatment for them should not be applauded for doing so. But for those who invent or exploit addictions or abstract “syndromes” in an effort to avoid real accountability, a Twinkie by any other name is still a Twinkie.

So what’s the moral of this story? The next time you get caught doing something stupid — whether it’s speeding, faking an illness to avoid work, or literally getting caught with your hand in a cookie jar — don’t just stand there foolishly accepting responsibility for what you’ve done. Simply explain that some addiction and/or Twinkies made you do it. It couldn’t hurt — and who knows, it might even get you off the hook!

Sources:

Ex-teacher goes to jail for nude photos
Preacher's son/gambling addiction/bank robbery
Wisconsin attorney/crack/bank robber
• Pennsylvania man/sexually assault a teen/alcohol addiction: The Morning Call p. B4 Headline: Towamencin Man Sentenced to State Prison in Sex Assault Case; He Pleaded Guilty to Conspiring With His Wife in Her Assault of Boy Written by: Pamela Lehman
• Chicago Woman/Shopping Addiction: 5/27/01 Dallas Morning News Headline: Judge buy's thief's defense: She stole to quell depression Written by: Matt O'Connor
bodybuilder who broke into six Maryland homes/steroids
Florida woman/nymphomaniac
Twinkie defense explanation and background
Rush Limbaugh/Maid/black market
Rush Limbaugh/rehab
Gary Bauer quote
Pat O'Brien/general info
Pat O'Brien quote
O'Brien and Dr. Phil

Click here to e-mail Lis.


Lis Wiehl joined FOX News Channel as a legal analyst in October 2001. She is currently a professor of law at the New York Law School. Wiehl received her undergraduate degree from Barnard College in 1983 and received her Master of Arts in Literature from the University of Queensland in 1985. In addition, she earned her Juris Doctor from Harvard Law School in 1987. To read the rest of Lis's bio, click here.