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I wrote this essay after participating in a 2006 workshop on Criminal Law and Cultural Diversity, which discussed, among other subjects, the wisdom of providing a "cultural defense." Uncertain just how far such a defense might expand on defenses already available, I undertook to explore that topic.

The phrase "a cultural defense" suggests an either/or choice that any legal system might make. That matters are much more complex than this is part of the burden of this essay. A "cultural defense" in its most general sense refers to a wide range of ways in which evidence about a defendant's cultural upbringing or practices could influence legal judgment about his guilt or responsibility. So understood, the phrase could refer not only to a general, separate defense labeled a "cultural defense," but also claims about culture that either are relevant under standard defenses in the criminal law, such as duress and provocation, or could be relevant were those traditional defenses expanded in some way.


Criminal Law | Criminal Procedure | Law