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The Use and Abuse of the Cultural Defense

  • Alison Dundes Renteln (a1)

Invoking a cultural defense has become a popular but controversial legal strategy. After explaining that the scope of the cultural defense is broader than is often understood and that it is used to mitigate punishment, create exemptions from policies, and increase the size of damage awards, I identify the normative principles that justify such a defense. Although it may be defended as a matter of principle, if this defense has any chance of being formally adopted, policies must be established to prevent its misuse. I propose a cultural defense test and show how it could be applied appropriately in a few cases. Following the analysis of its proper use, I demonstrate the potential for abuse by showing how in particular cases cultural arguments failed to meet the requirements of the cultural defense test I propose. Finally I recommend ways to assist courts in finding cultural experts who can authenticate the cultural claims.

Invoquer la défense culturelle est devenue une stratégie judiciaire populaire bien que controversée. Expliquant dans un premier temps que la portée de la défense culturelle est plus vaste que généralement comprise et qu'elle sert aussi bien à atténuer des sentences, à créer des exceptions à des politiques établies qu'à augmenter les montants de dommage et intérêts accordés, j'identifie ensuite les principes normatifs qui justifient ce type de défense. Même si elle peut être appuyée fondé sur des principes, si la défense culturelle a une chance d'être adoptée formellement, des politiques doivent être établies pour prévenir des abus. Je propose des critères d'application de la défense culturelle qui sont illustrés par quelques cas. La présentation d'exemples où la défense culturelle est appropriée est suivie d'une démonstration des abus potentiels, à partir de cas particuliers dans lesquels les arguments culturels avancés ne remplissaient pas les critères du test proposé. L'article se termine sur des recommandations pour assister les tribunaux à trouver les experts qui peuvent authentifier les requêtes culturelles.

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1 The debate over the cultural defense is taking place in countries across the globe such as Australia, Belgium, Canada, England, the Netherlands, South Africa, and the United States. See, e.g. Van Broeck, Jeroen, “Cultural Defence and Culturally Motivated Crimes (Cultural Offences)” (2001) 9 Eur. J. Crime, Crim. L. & Crim. J. 1; Bronitt, Simon & Amirthalingam, Kumaralingam, “Cultural Blindness: Criminal Law in Multicultural Australia” (1996) 21:2Alt. L.J. 58; Poulter, Sebastian, Ethnicity, Law, and Human Rights: The English Experience (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998); Phillips, Anne, “When Culture Means Gender: Issues of Cultural Defence in English Courts” (2003) 66 Mod. L. Rev. 510; Wong, Charmaine M., “Good Intentions, Troublesome Applications: The Cultural Defence and Other Uses of Cultural Evidence in Canada” (1999) 42:2–3Crim. L.Q. 367; Woo, Deborah, “Cultural ‘Anomalies’ and Cultural Defenses: towards an integrated theory of homicide and suicide” (2004) 32 Int'l J. Soc. L. 279; Carstens, Pieter A., “The Cultural Defense in Criminal Law: South African Perspectives” (2004) 2 De Jure 312. See also the essays on Folk Law in Conflict in Renteln, Alison Dundes & Dundes, Alan, eds., Folk Law: Essays in the Theory and Practice of Lex Non Scripta (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1995).

2 The challenge is to persuade courts to consider cultural motives. For a comprehensive treatment of culture in the context of criminal defenses, see Renteln, Alison Dundes, “A Justification of the Cultural Defense as Partial Excuse” (1993) 2 S. Cal. Rev. L. & Women's Stud. 437.

3 For a more complete argument, see Renteln, Alison Dundes, The Cultural Defense (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004) [Cultural Defense]. See also Renteln, , “Visual Religious Symbols and the Law” (2004) 47 American Behavioral Scientist 1573.

4 19 December 1966, 999 U.N.T.S. 171, Can. T.S. 1976 No. 47, 6 I.L.M. 368 (entered into force 23 March 1976, accession by Canada 19 May 1976).

5 Ibid., at art. 27.

6 The Human Rights Committee issues policy statements clarifying the scope of rights in the form of general comments. For its interpretation of art. 27, see General Comment No. 23: The rights of minorities (Art. 27), OHCHR, 50th sess., CCPR/C/21/Rev.1/Add.5 (1994).

7 Renteln, Alison Dundes, “Cultural Rights” in Baltes, Paul & Smelser, Neil, eds., International Encyclopedia of Social and Behavioral Sciences (Oxford: Elsevier, 2002).Renteln, , “In Defense of Culture in the Courtroom” in Shweder, Rick, Minow, Martha, & Rose-Markus, Hazel, eds., Engaging Cultural Differences: The Multicultural Challenge in Liberal Democracies (New York: Russell Sage, 2002).

8 One of the earlier articles on this subject emphasized how crucial it is to ensure consideration of evidence. Diamond, Bernard L., “Social and Cultural Factors as a Diminished Capacity Defense in Criminal Law” (1978) 6 Bull. Am. Acad. Psychiatry & L. 195 at 203.

9 Cultural Defense, supra note 3.

10 Ibid., at 207.

11 See e.g. Slate v. Kargar, 679 A. 2d 81 (Me. 1996). See also Wanderer, Nancy A. & Connors, Catherine R., “Culture and Crime: Kargar and the Existing Framework for a Cultural Defense” (1999) 47 Buff. L. Rev. 829.

12 For an account of this case, see Hugh Downs & Barbara Walters “We Want Our Children Back” 20/20 (18 August 1995) (Nexis) [Krasniqi].

13 Most crimes require only mens rea (intent) and actus reus (act). Specific intent crimes also require proof of the motive or reason for the action. To be guilty of child sexual abuse, a parent must intend to touch the child, must touch the child, and must do so for sexual gratification. Otherwise parents would be unable to bathe their children or change their diapers.

14 Krasniqi, supra note 12.

15 Cultural Defense, supra note 3 at 59. Touching children in the genital area should probably be discouraged not only because parents will encounter difficulty with the law, but also because children caught between two cultures may feel uncomfortable if they realize it is considered inappropriate conduct in the larger society. But incarcerating parents or breaking up families are illegitimate means of inculcating new values.

16 It is a partial excuse that reduces a charge of murder to one of manslaughter.

17 Trujillo-Garcia v. Rowland, U.S. 6199 (Dist. Ct., 1992) (Lexis); U.S. 30441 (App. Ct., 1993) (Lexis), 114 S Ct 2145; U.S. 4219 (Dist. Ct. 1994) (Lexis), 128 L. Ed 873, 62 USLW 3793.

18 For analysis of the term “chingar” see Paz, Octavio, “The Sons of La Malinche” in Paz, , The Labyrinth of Solitude: Life and Thought in Mexico (New York: Grove Press, 1961). See also Cultural Defense, supra note 3 at 34–35.

19 For a thoughtful treatment of the dilemma of a defendant from another culture seeking to use the provocation defense, see Yeo, Stanley M. H., “Recent Australian Pronouncements on the Ordinary Person Test in Provocation and Automatism” (19901991) 33 Crim. L.Q. 280; Yeo, Stanley M. H., “Provoking the ‘Ordinary’ Ethnic Person: A Juror's Predicament” (1987) 11 Crim L.J. 96.

20 See e.g. Winkelman, Michael, “Cultural Factors in Criminal Defense Proceedings” (1996) 55:2Human Organization 154; Clinton, Olabisi L., “Cultural Differences and Sentencing Departures” (1993) 5 Federal Sentencing Reporter 348; Holmquist, Kristen L., “Cultural Defense or False Stereotype? What Happens When Latina Defendants Collide with the Federal Sentencing Guidelines” (1997) 12 Berkeley Women's L.J. 45; Murray, Yxta Maya, “The Battered Woman Syndrome and the Cultural Defense” (1995) 7 Federal Sentencing Reporter 197.

21 Siripongs v. Calderon, 35 F. 3d 1308 (9th Cir. Ct. 1994), denial of cert. 512 US 1183 (1995); 133 F. 3d 732 (1998).

22 As he was present during the commission of the crime, he was technically eligible to receive the death penalty under the felony murder rule whether or not he pulled the trigger. Nevertheless, a jury might have seen fit to spare his life had they believed someone else had actually committed the murder.

23 For more on this case, see Cultural Defense, supra note 3 at 43.

24 Friedman v. State, 282 N.Y.S. 2d 858 (1967), 54 Misc. 2d 448.

25 People v. Rhines, 131 Cal. App. 3d 498 (1982) [Rhines].

26 For another case involving racism, see also Fournier, Pascale, “The Ghettoisation of Differences in Canada: ‘Rape by Culture’ and the Danger of a ‘Cultural Defense’ in Criminal Law Trials” (2002) 8 Man. L.J. 88.

27 Rhines, supra note 25 at 507.

28 Mrozek, ThornAccused Wife Killer to Claim Mental AbuseLos Angles Times (7 May 1993) B 1.

29 Tugend, Tom‘Cultural Defense’ plea gets sentence loweredThe Jerusalem Post (29 March 1994) 3.

30 Mrozek, ThornCultural Defense in Wife's DeathLos Angeles Times (4 March 1994) B3.

31 One said: “I think it's a stupid lawyer's trick” ibid.).

32 Mrozek, ThornProsecutor Says Accused Killer LiedLos Angeles Times (18 March 1994) B4. Despite accepting manslaughter, some jurors told the press they were “not swayed by the cultural defense,” see Burke, AnneMan who said wife abused him guilty in killingDaily News (26 March 1994) 3.

33 U.S. v. Bauer, 84 F. 3d 1549 (9* Cir.Ct. 1996) [Bauer].

34 The judges thought they should be entitled raise the religious defense with respect to the possession claims, but were doubtful as to whether the Rastafarian faith required the multi-million dollar farm.

35 The appellate court said that when retried the defendants would have “… the obligation of showing that they are in fact Rastafarians and that the use of marijuana is a part of the religious practice of Rastafarians” (Bauer, supra note 33 at 1559).

38 “As to the counts relating to conspiracy to distribute, possession with intent to distribute, and money laundering, the religious freedom of the defendants was not invaded. Nothing before us suggests that Rastafarianism would require this conduct.” (Ibid., at 1559).

39 For a detailed account of the proceedings, see Martin, David A., “Adelaide Abankwah, Fauziya Kasinga, and the Dilemmas of Political Asylum” in Martin, David A. & Schuck, Peter H., eds., Immigration Stories (Foundation Press) [forthcoming in 2005] [Martin].

40 Kasinga proved that she had a well-founded fear of persecution and her fears were on account of membership in a social group. In re Fauziya Kasinga, B.I.A. 15 1996 (Lexis). See also Kassindja, Fauziya & Bashir, Layli Miller, Do They Hear You When You Cry? (New York: Delta, 1998).

41 She also requested withholding of deportation which is subject to different standards.

42 Waldman, AmyWoman Fearful of Mutilation Wins Long Battle for AsylumNew York Times (18 August 1999) B3; Hu, WinnieWoman Fleeing Mutilation Savors FreedomNew York Times (20 August 1999) B4.

43 Abankwah v. INS, 183 F. 3d 18, 1999 U.S. App. 15545 (Lexis).

44 The immigration judge apparently rejected her claim because Ghana outlawed FGM in 1994 and because there were no reports of the practice in the region from which she came. Abankwah v. INS, 185 F. 3d 18, 20 (2d Cir. 1999).

46 Marzulli, JohnHer Mutilation Tale is a Fake say FedsDaily News (10 September 2002) 10.

47 Murphy, Dean E.I.N.S. Says African Woman Used Fraud in Bid for AsylumNew York Times (21 December 2000) B3; Branigin, William & Farah, DouglasAsylum Seeker is Impostor, INS SaysWashington Post (20 December 2000) A1.

48 DeStefano, Anthony M.Fraud Charge in Genital Mutilation Asylum CaseNewsday (10 September 2002) A13. Her name Regina was the only regal dimension of her identity.

49 Malkin, MichelleMutilating the TruthThe Washington Times (20 September 2002) A20 [Malkin].

50 Evidently the victim of identity theft, the real Adelaide Abankwah, did not report her stolen passport for fear she would be deported. By cooperating with the INS she hoped to legalize her status.

51 “Sexual Mutilation Horror, or Hoax” Channel 2 CBS Los Angeles (Associated Press) (23 January 2003).

52 Tunde Chris Odediran “The Adelaide Abankwah Immigration Furore” TransSahara News (on file with author).

53 U.S. v. Danson, indictment, F#2002 R01952, (Find Law); “Federal court convicts phony African “princess” of falsehoods” 9:1 International Law Update (January 2003) (Lexis).

54 Glaberson, WilliamPerjury Conviction in Asylum CaseNew York Times (16 January 2003) B4.

55 Personal communication with David Martin (4 October 2004) Clerk's office, District court of Brooklyn. See also Martin, supra note 39.

56 This custom takes various forms. For a careful consideration of different types, see Gruenbaum, Ellen, The Female Circumcision Controversy: An Anthropological Perspective (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001).

57 I am indebted to Gordon Woodman, Professor of Law at Birmingham University and an expert on Ghana, for this observation.

58 “Her exposure as a fraud has brought a warm glow to America's conservatives and professional Hillary-haters,” see Kettle, MartinFeminist Cause was FraudThe Guardian (21 December 2000) 13; See also Malkin, supra note 49.

59 Chisholm, B.J., “Credible Definitions: A Critique of U.S. Asylum Law's Treatment of Gender-Related Claims” (2001) 44 How. L.J. 427.

60 David Martin describes how a judge noticed that her name was spelled Adelaide on her passport and visa but that she spelled her name “Adeliade” on many forms filed with the court, (Martin, supra note 39 at p. 14).

61 For a discussion of this case see Lee, Ivy C. & Lewis, Mie, “Human Trafficking from a Legal Advocate's Perspective: History, Legal Framework and Current Anti-Trafficking Efforts” (2003) 10 U. of California Davis J. Int'l L. & Policy 169.

62 Ibid.; Wang, Anna, “Beyond Black and White: Crime and Foreignness in the News” (2001) 8 Asian L.J. 187, Wang compares the Reddy case with the O.J. Simpson case, noting that race was explicitly addressed in the former but downplayed in the latter [Wang].

63 Chabria, AnitaHis Own Private BerkeleyLos Angeles Times Magazine (25 November 2001) 2223, 40 [Chabria]. Reddy had Sitha's body cremated in accordance with Hindurites even though her parents were Christian.

64 Morse, RobWhistle-blower ready for justiceSan Francisco Chronicle (27 January 2002) A2.

65 U.S. v. Reddy, indictment (25 October 2000).

66 Personal communication with Scott Kronland (July 29 2004). The main issues were the extent to which sexual abuse of minors is acceptable in India and how caste relationships affected the parties. See Griffey, VirginiaReddy to be Sentenced Today: Lawyer's Defense Utilizes Cultural ContextDaily Californian (19 June 2001) 1, 3.

67 Marech, RonaSlavery abounds in U.S., rights group saysSan Francisco Chronicle (24 September 2004) A3; Anon., Hidden Slaves: Forced Labor in the United States (Berkeley: Human Rights Center, 2004). Initially Reddy expected a five year sentence, but the judge increased it to 8 years. See Yi, MatthewGuilty Plea in Smuggling of girls: Landlord gets 5 years in prisonSan Francisco Chronicle (8 March 2001) A21; Yi, MatthewBerkeley landlord jailed for 8 yearsSan Francisco Chronicle (21 June 2001) A15. One son, Vijay Lakireddy received a two-year prison sentence for visa fraud and had to pay a $40,000 fine. His uncle, Jayapakash Lakireddy received 366 days for the same conviction, see Holstege, SeanBerkeley sex-slave civil suit settled. Victim's family claimed wrongful death, sister alleged emotional sufferingTribune (8 April 2004) 1, 6. Another son, Prasad Lakireddy, received only one year house arrest and a $20,000 fine, see Berton, JustinBut He Was Just Taking OrdersEast Bay Express (16 June 2004) 17. Some have questioned whether the Reddy family was sufficiently punished, see e.g. Kim, Kathleen & Hreshchyshyn, Kusia, “Human Trafficking Private Right of Action: Civil Rights for Trafficked Persons in the United States” (2004) 16 Hastings Women's L.J. 23. The interesting article by Kim and Hreshchyshyn discusses human rights lawsuits filed against Reddy under the Alien Tort Claims Act and the possible use of the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2003 (TVPRA) which created a private right of action for individuals trafficked to the U.S.

68 Kurhi, EricCivil Suits against Lakireddy are settledThe Berkeley Voice (9 April 2004) A1, A9.

69 Chabria, supra note 63 at 22.

70 Dundes, Alan, Two Tales of Crow and Sparrow: A Freudian Folkloristic Essay on Caste and Untouchability (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 1997).

71 Chabria, supra note 63 at 23.

72 Personal communication with Stephen Corrigan, U.S. Attorney, (29 July 2004).

73 Diana Russell discusses how Chanti Prattipati and her sister were given by their “poverty-stricken” parents to Reddy and had worked cleaning his properties in India before moving to California. See Russell, Diana, “Why Did Chanti Die?” (2000) 30 Off Our Backs 10.

74 This argument is attributed to defense attorneys in Lee, Henry K.Guilty Plea seen in sex smuggling case in BerkeleySan Francisco Chronicle (22 June 2002) A15.

75 See e.g. Johnson, ChipCrimes Usual in India, Reddy saysSan Francisco Chronicle (16 June 2001) A11 [Johnson].

76 Chabria, supra note 63 at 40.

77 Chorney, JeffInvestigation into interpreter in landlord sex case; Translator may have encouraged alleged victims to exaggerate testimonyThe Oakland Tribune (7 November 2001) 1, 6.

78 Chabria, supra note 63 at 40.

79 Johnson, supra note 75.

80 For more background and citations, see Cultural Defense, supra note 3 at 49–51.

81 Lloyd, PeterThe Case of Mrs. Adesanya” (1974) 4:2RAIN: Royal Anthropological Institute News.

82 For discussion about the significance of the kirpan for Sikh communities in the U.S. and Canada, see Lai, Vinay, “Sikh Kirpans in California Schools: The Social Construction of Symbols, Legal Pluralism, and the Politics of Diversity” (1996) 22 Amerasia J. 89. See also Wayland, Sarah V., “Religious Expression in public schools: kirpans in Canada, hijab in France” (1997) 20 Ethnic and Racial Studies 545.

83 Cultural Defense, supra note 3 at 104–105.

84 Wang's analysis of the Reddy case emphasizes the role of the media in disseminating racist stereotypes (supra note 62).

85 Of course there is no reason why courts could not hear testimony from both outsiders and insiders.

86 Judicial Studies Board, Handbook on Ethnic Minority Issues (London: JSB, 1994).

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