Criminal Defenses : Information about Fighting Back in Court
Do you have a defense to your criminal charges?
There are a variety of defenses that a skilled criminal attorney can use in a criminal case. The first defense in a criminal case is to show that the prosecutor cannot prove each and every element of the criminal offense. In other words, the prosecutor does not have enough evidence to prove that the defendant or the accused committed the crime. The elements of a crime may be challenged and negated if the following defenses are proved: Involuntary Acts, Mistake of Fact, Mistake of Law, Impossibility, or Abandonment / Withdrawal. It is important that you contact a Los Angeles criminal attorney from our firm to get more information about defending your case.
Involuntary Acts- This Involuntary Act defense is available when the defendant's conduct does not include a voluntary act. All crimes must include a voluntary act. Examples of involuntary acts include an act consisting of a reflex or a convulsion; an act performed during a state of unconsciousness; or an act committed during hypnosis.
- Mistake of Fact -The Mistake of Fact defense asserts that a criminal defendant acted from an ignorance or misunderstanding of fact that demonstrates a lack of the required criminal intent (mens rea). For example in a theft case, one of the elements the prosecutor must prove in order to obtain a conviction is that the defendant stole the property belonging to another. If the defendant's criminal defense lawyer proves that the defendant truly and reasonably believed that the property taken in the theft case belonged to the defendant, then that would be a viable defense to the crime of theft.
- Mistake of Law -This Mistake of Law defense is rarely used and is not as effective as the Mistake of Fact defense. It is no defense to a crime that the defendant did not realize he or she was breaking the law when he or she acted. In most cases, the old expression "ignorance of the law is no excuse" still applies. The Mistake of Law defense is effective when used in crimes that require "specific intent." For example, in a dispute between a buyer and a seller over title, a buyer's legitimate misconception of the buyer's legal rights regarding the property will negate the intent for theft. The specific intent to steal is an essential element of the crime of theft and that would be lacking here.
- Impossibility -This Legal Impossibility defense is used when the defendant intended to commit a crime and did everything possible to commit a crime but unanticipated legal and factual circumstances prevented the crime from occurring. Example: Legal Impossibility occurs when a defendant is accused of stealing property belonging to his neighbor. It turns out that the property stolen belonged to the defendant and not the neighbor and therefore the defendant could not be convicted of stealing his own property. Another case where Legal Impossibility is a defense would be if the defendant is accused of smoking marijuana believing it to be a crime and it turns out that there is no law against smoking marijuana. Factual Impossibility as a defense almost never is successful. For example, Ken points a gun at his neighbor, but the gun does not discharge, because unbeknownst to Ken, it is not loaded. Or David intends to rape his girlfriend, but is unable to do so because he is impotent. In these two examples, the defense of Factual Impossibility would not be successful and the defendants would be convicted of an "attempted" crime. The reasoning behind this is that an unsuccessful effort to commit a crime should be punished.
- Abandonment / Withdrawal -Abandonment and Withdrawal could be raised as a defense if and only if it is a fully voluntary and complete abandonment of the criminal plan. This abandonment must be made under circumstances establishing a complete renunciation of the criminal plan and not just a decision to postpone committing it or finding another victim.
Even if the prosecutor is able to prove the defendant committed a crime, a defendant may assert additional defenses, known as Affirmative Defenses. There are two types of Affirmative Defenses: Justification and Excuse.
Justification defenses are permitted when the defendant's conduct did not, under the circumstances, violate the law. In other words, the defendant acted properly in a difficult situation. Because the defendant's conduct was justified, there is nothing to condemn or punish.
Justification Defenses include:
- Self-Defense -A person is justified in using force to protect him or herself when there is a reasonable fear of death or serious injury, or threat of immediate and grave force against him or her, for example, a threat to his or her life.
- Defense of Others -A person may use force to protect another when he or she reasonably believes the use of force is necessary to defend another person against an unlawful attack by an aggressor.
- Defense of Property -In California, a person is permitted to use a limited amount of force to defend property. Since property is not as valuable as human life, deadly force may not be used solely to defend property.
- Law Enforcement Defense -Law enforcement officers and those acting on behalf of law enforcement officers are justified in using force to apprehend criminal suspects. If a suspect threatens the life of the arresting officer, the officer may act in self-defense and use deadly force to protect his life.
- Necessity -This defense is a "last-resort" defense that may be used when four requirements are met: the defendant faces a "choice of evils," there are no apparent legal alternatives, an immediate threat exists, and defendant chooses the lesser harm. And of course, the defendant must not have caused the necessity.
California law recognizes several defenses when a defendant makes a socially wrong choice but does so because he is not capable of controlling his behavior or understanding the consequences of his actions.
Excuse Defenses include:
- Duress -The duress defense can be used when an aggressor uses force or threatens to use force if the defendant refuses to commit the crime. The defendant must not have recklessly put himself in the situation and he must believe there is threat of death or bodily harm. This defense may be used for any crime, including homicide.
- Intoxication (Involuntary and Voluntary) - Involuntary intoxication may be used as a defense when a person commits a crime that he would not have otherwise committed had he been sober, or if the intoxication puts the defendant in a temporary state of legal insanity. (For example: someone slips a drug into another's drink, causing the person to hallucinate and commit a crime). Voluntary intoxication defenses are much more restrictive, but can be used as a defense to a crime that requires "specific intent."
- Diminished Capacity -Diminished capacity is a controversial and partial defense similar to voluntary intoxication. Evidence of a defendant's mental condition is used to prove he did not have the mental capacity to commit a specific intent crime.
- Insanity -The insanity defense provides a full defense to a criminal charge. This defense is only available if the defendant's mental disorder kept him from knowing his conduct was wrong. Proving insanity may stop a defendant from being convicted of a particular crime. Sometimes, even an unsuccessful insanity defense can be used to save a client's life in the death phase of a murder trial.
- Entrapment -A defendant may be excused of committing a crime if he was unfairly induced by a law enforcement agent to commit a crime. There must have been inducement by law enforcement and the defendant must not be inclined to otherwise commit the crime.
- Infancy -The law excuses the acts of children age 7 and under because they are too young to be criminally responsible for their actions. Minors between ages 7-14 are presumed incapable of committing a crime (rebuttable by prosecutors). Minors over age 14 have no infancy defense. In California, a person under age 16 at the time of committing an offense must be tried in Juvenile Court.
Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney
If you have a pending criminal case in Los Angeles, California and you would like to discuss your case with an experienced criminal defense lawyer, who can explain how certain criminal defenses may apply to the facts of your case, please contact our office. Stephen G. Rodriguez & Partners is an effective and skilled group of criminal defense lawyers that aggressively defends people charged with all sorts of criminal offenses, form misdemeanors to serious felonies.
Contact a Los Angeles criminal defense lawyer
from our firm to discuss the possibilities in defending your case.