What Are The Four Major Criminal Defenses?

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A criminal charge can be life changing. You have a right to present the strongest defense possible. To prepare your case, you need to know what criminal defenses you can use to fight the charges. Our criminal defense lawyers explain the major defenses in criminal cases.

The four major criminal defenses are innocence, constitutional issues, justification and lack of legal culpability. A victim may raise all the defenses that may apply in the case.

1.    What is the innocence defense?

If the State does not prove the elements of the case in any way, then a defendant is innocent.   This defense includes mistaken identity or situations where the actions of the defendant do not meet the elements of the crime.

The innocence defense in criminal law

When a defendant asserts that they are innocent, he says that he did not commit the offense he is charged with. He says that the State is simply wrong about the charges. For example, the defendant might say that he is a victim of mistaken identity. Or, he may say his conduct does not meet the elements of the offense.  For example, in a drunk driving case, he might say that he was not driving over the legal limit, or that he was not under the influence of alcohol. 

To assert an innocence defense, you must look carefully at the crime charged and review each element or step that the State must prove. The State has the burden of proof. If you can raise doubt about any element of the crime, the entire case against you fails.

2.    What is a constitutional defense?

A constitutional defense is the assertion that law enforcement violated a person’s rights when they investigated the case. If the court agrees, they may suppress the evidence gathered in violation of the person’s rights.

Constitutional defenses in criminal law

People have a right to be free from unlawful and intrusive police interference. For example, the police must have a valid reason to justify a traffic stop. They must have a legal basis to conduct a search. There are rules for holding someone in custody and giving them access to a lawyer if requested.

When the police violate these laws, the court may respond by suppressing evidence. The State may not be able to use the evidence that it gathered against you in violation of your rights. Usually, the judge decides a constitutional law issue in advance of trial. Your attorney makes a motion to the court for suppression of this evidence. If successful, it may make it impractical for the State to continue to pursue its case against you.

In addition to constitutional defenses, a statute of limitations violation is a procedural violation that may be raised in criminal law. Time limits for prosecution vary by jurisdiction and by the offense charged.

3.    What are justification defenses?

A justification defense in criminal law excuses the conduct of the defendant for a legal reason. Justification defenses include self-defense, defense of others and necessity.

Justification defenses in criminal law

Sometimes, a person’s actions may be privileged even though they would otherwise break a law. For example, a person may use self-defense if they are at immediate risk of being attacked. They may also defend someone else in similar circumstances. For a necessity defense, the defendant must show that the harm they prevented by committing the crime was worse than the crime they committed. For a justification defense to be successful, it is important to carefully build the evidence to explain what happened and the reasons for your actions.

4.    What is the legal defense of lack of culpability?

The legal defense of lack of culpability means that a person is not responsible for a crime because of their state of mind. Insanity, duress, lack of intent and involuntary intoxication are all examples of a lack of legal culpability.

 Lack of culpability legal defenses

The law creates exceptions in criminal law where a person may not be responsible for their actions. For example, a person who is insane may not understand what they are doing. In addition, some offenses require specific intent – mistakes or lack of intent can be a defense. There are requirements for what the defendant must show to prove that they do not have legal culpability for their actions.

Attorneys to Evaluate Criminal Defenses

If you are charged with a crime, how you handle this situation may impact your future. Let our criminal defense lawyers help you evaluate the situation and build a strong and comprehensive defense to the charges against you. Call or message us today.


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