What Are Defenses in Criminal Law?

February 1, 2023

When someone is charged with a crime, the first thing that usually comes to mind is the kind of defenses available. While a defense lawyer can help in determining the most appropriate defense for the case, it is important to understand what each means. With several criminal defenses available for most crimes, knowing each helps in determining your rights and options.

Defining a Criminal Defense

Simply put, criminal defense is a strategic argument trying to challenge the sufficiency and validity of the prosecution’s evidence. The party trying to prove the criminal charges against the defendant is known as the prosecution, the people, or the State. While the prosecution will be trying to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the crime, the defense seeks to prove otherwise.

Common Types of Criminal Defenses

When charges with a crime, the defendant has several defenses to use. For instance, the defendant may argue that the evidence was gathered in violation of their constitutional rights or that there are holes in the prosecution’s care. The main defenses that can be used include:

1. Innocence: A simple defense to criminal liability, which is raised when the accused person did not commit the crime. The defendant does not have to prove anything but has the option to offer testimony, documents, and other evidence that supports their innocence.

2. Alibi: An affirmative defense in which the defendant must prove that he or she was somewhere else than the scene of the crime when it was being committed. This may require testimony from the person they were with, receipts from a restaurant, surveillance footage, phone records, or tickets of a sporting event or movie theater.

3. Constitutional Violence: The defense questions the way evidence used in the case was collected by the law enforcement officers. This may include illegal search, seizure of properties, or failure to obtain a search or entry warrant.

4. Voluntary vs. Involuntary Intoxication: While involuntary intoxication involves a lack of intent defense, voluntary intoxication may not stand a valid defense.

5. Self-defense: Raised for crimes like battery, assault, and murder, where the defendant justifies their action as a way of responding to a threat or violent actions coming to them

6. Other Possible defenses: Other defenses that can be used in a criminal case include defense of others, defense of property, necessity mistake of law or fact, abandonment or withdrawal, coercion or duress, and statute of limitations.

While the defenses may differ greatly, they also seek to increase the weight of the burden of proof to the prosecutor. They make it difficult for the prosecutor to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty of the crime.