Volume 36

Balancing Liberal Ideals with the Use of a Cultural Defense

by Emma Skowron

Scholars have long debated if and how liberalism can be balanced with multi- culturalism; the use of a cultural defense in the courtroom illustrates the major issues of this conflict. In People v. Moua, a defendant’s rape charges were successfully reduced based on the use of a cultural defense in which the attorney argued that the defendant’s culture encouraged him to abduct a woman and consummate their marriage as part of a marriage ritual, despite her pleas for him to stop. This case is one of many in which a defendant has used a cultural defense in the United States after committing an illegal act of violence, typically domestic violence against women and children, by stating that within their culture the actions they took are condoned. The cultural defense is used to diminish the defendant’s liability for the crime by arguing that his or her culture and belief system led him or her to believe those actions were acceptable or even encouraged, which in several cases has proven to be successful in reducing the charges and sentences against defendants. While this may be seen as promoting multiculturalism and allowing people the freedom to surround themselves with the ideals of their culture, it also allows defendants a loophole in the legal system, leads to unimaginable consequences for victims of domestic violence, and could even be seen as the legal system condoning this abhorrent behavior. Lawyers also likely have an ethical duty to consider regarding the cultural defense, how it is implemented, and their role in promoting the administration of justice. There is a distinc- tion to be made between promoting violence and promoting multiculturalism – the two do not have to go hand in hand.

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