4 Birdbrained Legal Defenses Real People Actually Tried
As the old saying goes: If you can't do the time, don't rob the donut shop next to the police station. Getting caught is part of the criminal circle of life, and many villains pride themselves on taking guilty verdicts with dignity and pride. Other criminals, however, will do or say just about anything to weasel themselves out of things, and that includes lies so dumb that they're the legal equivalent of claiming the dog ate your homework. For example ...
An Olympic Sprinter Blamed A Failed Drug Test On Too Much Sex
In 1998, American sprinter Dennis Mitchell was at the top of his game. With a heap of medals and records to his name, many thought he'd go for the gold during the 2000 Olympics in Sydney. Basically, Mitchell was the man. In fact, he was too much of the man, an Olympic doping panel agreed, to ethically allow him to compete in any sporting event.
On the brink of Olympic glory, a drug panel accused Mitchell of doping when they concluded his body contained too much testosterone (a popular form of cheating among athletes). But when asked to confess by the U.S. Track and Field Doping Panel, Mitchell instead claimed he had built up too much man juice by having lots of sex with his wife, hurdler Damu Cherry-Mitchell. The day before the test was Damu's birthday, so Mitchell had five bottles of beer and four epic bone sessions because, quote, "the lady deserved a treat." Surely, that explained why he had the testosterone of seven grown bodybuilders, right?
Unfortunately for Mitchell, lab techs know more about endocrinology than the average frat dude. They confirmed that no amount of boinking and booze could ever raise testosterone levels above the body's natural limit, and so the International Amateur Athletic Federation banned him for two years.
A Tesla Driver Killed A Cyclist And Blamed It On His New Car Smell
Fresh off purchasing a Tesla in 2013, Navindra Kumar Jain took his whisper-quiet electric four-door for a spin. But Jain never reached his destination. Instead he fell asleep at the wheel and struck and killed bicyclist Joshua Alper. Naturally, Jain claimed it wasn't he who had killed poor Alper, but his Tesla. No, not in the "flawed auto driving" way, but because the smell had knocked him out.
According to Jain, he had opted to have the car upholstered with synthetic materials instead of leather, on account of his convictions, but the smell was so terrible that he was forced to use a baking soda air freshener. And apparently the smell of car freshener and nylon combined is as potent as four Ambien and a quart of vodka.
Jain's lawyers claimed that because of this unbearable smell, the car was "defective and unreasonably dangerous when used in a normal, intended and foreseeable manner," voiding Jain of all blame. A bold move in a world that has scientists, who easily confirmed that nothing in his car could serve as a comic book knockout gas. Jain was found guilty of misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter and sentenced to 200 days under California's "He who smelt it, dealt it" law.
A Computer Programmer Claims "Geek" Defense When Accused Of Murdering His Wife
In 2006, Nina Reiser disappeared into thin air, her groceries left on the ground at the spot she was last seen. According to her husband, Linux developer and former whiz kid Hans Reiser, she went back to Russia, abandoning her life and two beloved children because their marriage had fallen apart. According to the police and about a million pieces of evidence, Hans murdered her and hid the body. But according to Hans' lawyers, he wasn't a murderer -- just a misunderstood geek.
While there was no body, the evidence against Hans was overwhelming. He found out that Nina was having a kinky affair with his best friend. To cope with that revelation and her disappearance, Hans had decided to do some light reading by buying several books on murdering and murder investigations. Meanwhile, cops found a fanny pack with $8,000 in cash, his passport, and a cellphone with the battery removed to prevent tracking. They also discovered that Hans had scrubbed his car clean and removed the passenger seat. If there's one thing that screams innocence, it's copying Ted Bundy.
At this point, you're probably thinking who could be stupid enough to act that suspiciously. And that's exactly what Reiser's lawyers wanted you to think. During the trial, his attorneys launched into what Wired later called the "Geek Defense," stating that their client was simply one of those maladjusted nerds too preoccupied with ones and zeroes to realize their innocuous behavior could come across as super suspicious. They even claimed he likely had borderline Asperger syndrome, as if an inability to read social cues turns you into the Mr. Magoo of incriminating evidence.
Unbelievably, the "I don't get invited to enough dinner parties to have killed my wife" defense was unsuccessful, and after Reiser's terrible performance during the trial, a jury found him guilty of murder. Reiser later confessed and led police to Nina's body in return for a reduced sentence of 15-to-life instead of 25-to-life. As if that antisocial nerd could ever charm a review board into letting him out early.
The Co-Creator Of Java Convinced A Jury He Wasn't A Pedophile Because Nothing You Do On The Internet Counts In Real Life
Ah, 1999. The first tech bubble was blowing up, the internet came out of AOL CD-ROMs, and rich tech nerds could get away with almost anything. Like Patrick Naughton, co-creator of Java, who was not only a pioneer in internet software, but also a pioneer in being an online child predator.
Naughton had created a secret online chat persona named "hotseattle," and used it to groom a 13-year-old girl calling herself "KrisLA." In September of 1999, the then-34-year-old executive vice president working for the Walt Disney Internet Group arranged a sex date with the child, flying out to Los Angeles on a private Disney jet. Luckily, KrisLA turned out not be a tween girl after all, but an FBI agent tasked with trapping early adopter child predators.
Naughton, who was also in possession of a vast collection of child pornography, was arrested, fired, and divorced in quick succession. The situation looked pretty dire, but he had one ace up his sleeve: He knew that people were absolute numbskulls when it came to the newfangled internet.
Naughton invoked the now-infamous "Fantasy Defence," claiming that obviously everything on the internet was one big fantasy, and he had always assumed that KrisLA was an adult pretending to a girl. In fact, he never really expected to have sex with anyone on his trip down south, because who gets laid by surfing the computers? Amirite, Boomers? He even managed to convince several jury members that he didn't know there was child porn on his computer because it had been auto-downloaded from pedophile websites which he, a non-pedophile, had frequently visited.
This preposterous defense worked well enough to deadlock the jury, forcing the DA to offer a reduced deal whereby Naughton only had to plead guilty to possession of child pornography. For that heinous, disgusting crime, he had to serve exactly zero days of jail. Instead he made a deal with the FBI to develop software to track sexual predators online free of charge, saving the government millions of dollars. So a guy with a computer full of child porn who traveled across state lines to have sex with a 13-year-old didn't spend a single day in prison because people in 1999 were bad at computers. Good job, internet.
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