Criminal laws are designed to punish offenders who commit crimes and to deter others from committing such acts. Just because you have violated a criminal law does not automatically mean you are guilty of a crime. A number of defenses may be used to excuse criminal behavior. The specifics of these defenses vary greatly from state to state but the basic concepts are the same.
You Can Claim You Made a Mistake
Most criminal laws require that a defendant deliberately commit a wrongful act. If you can prove that you acted mistakenly, you can use that as a defense. As an example, assume you've picked up four wooden beams from a construction site, believing that they've been abandoned as worthless. You are charged with theft. Your mistaken belief that the beams had been abandoned is a defense because you did not intend to steal them.
You Can Claim You Acted Under Duress
Duress means that you were threatened into committing a crime. Duress can be asserted as a defense to all crimes except murder. To establish the defense of duress, you first must prove that there was an immediate threat of death or serious injury to yourself or some other person. Second, you must show that you reasonably feared the threat would be carried out if you did not commit the crime. The third element of the defense is that you must show you had no reasonable opportunity to escape the situation.
You Can Change Your Mind About a Crime
Abandonment is a defense to the crimes of conspiracy and attempt. A conspiracy is an agreement between two or more people to commit a crime. To defend against conspiracy, you must show that you changed your mind about committing the crime, and you must also show that you made a reasonable effort to stop the other parties from carrying out the crime.
The crime of "attempt" occurs if you deliberately try to commit a crime but fail to complete the act. You must show that you stopped trying to commit the crime entirely as opposed to simply postponing the act. You must also show that your decision was voluntary. For example, if you try to rob a bank but run from the scene when the police arrive, you did not stop the robbery voluntarily - you stopped only because the police arrived.
You Can Plead Insanity As a Defense
If you were insane at the time you committed a crime, you may be declared not guilty of the offense in some states. In other states, you may be found guilty but insane. You would be sentenced to prison, but you would first be sent to a hospital to be treated for your mental condition.
In some states, you are considered legally insane if you did not understand what you were doing or if you understood, but didn't realize that your actions were wrong. In other states, you are legally insane if you were unable to stop yourself from committing the crime. Some states allow you to plead insanity if you had a mental disorder at the time of the crime and that disorder caused you to commit the crime.
A Criminal Lawyer Can Help
The law surrounding defenses that can be used when accused of a crime is complicated. Plus, the facts of each case are unique. This article provides a brief, general introduction to the topic. For more detailed, specific information, please contact a criminal lawyer.