cultural defense | Definition

Doc's CJ Glossary by Adam J. McKee
Course: Criminal Law

In criminal law, a cultural defense is a defense that is based on the argument that an offender’s cultural background or beliefs influenced their behavior and should be taken into account in determining their guilt or punishment.

It is typically used in cases where an offender’s actions are considered criminal in one culture, but are considered acceptable or even mandatory in another culture.

The use of cultural defenses in criminal cases has been controversial, with some arguing that it allows offenders to avoid responsibility for their actions and undermines the principle of equal justice under the law. Others argue that cultural defenses are necessary in order to take into account the unique circumstances of an offender and the role that culture may have played in their behavior.

In order for a cultural defense to be successful, the offender’s attorney must typically demonstrate that the offender’s cultural background or beliefs played a significant role in their behavior and that the offender was not aware that their actions were wrong or unlawful. The judge or jury will then consider this evidence along with other factors in determining the offender’s guilt or punishment.

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Last Modified: 01/09/2023


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