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Hmong Defendant May Use Cultural Defense

Chai Vang, charged with killing six hunters in Wisconsin, may raise a "cultural defense" to the charges against him. Vang, who lives in Minnesota is Hmong. Minnesota has one of the largest Hmong populations in the U.S.

A cultural defense -- or the assertion that a person's different cultural background influenced his or her actions -- can be used as a mitigating factor to help a defendant get a plea deal or a break on his sentence.

Vang says the hunters directed racial slurs at him before the shooting. He has been a spiritual leader to the Hmong community.

According to Alison Dundes Renteln, a political science professor from the University of Southern California who wrote the recently published book "The Cultural Defense," American courts historically have "been extremely reluctant to admit cultural evidence," adding "and that's because most people think 'When in Rome, do as the Romans do.'"

Among the factors that might come into play:

• Did reported tensions between Hmong and white hunters play a role in the shooting?

• Had Vang been racially harassed in the past, prompting him to react with fear and anger?

• Was Vang confused about American private property and hunting laws, having been accustomed to roaming freely in the woods of his native Laos?

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