Defending Yourself Against a Criminal Charge – Common Defenses You Need to Know

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Learn about the most common defenses to a criminal charge, including innocent until proven guilty, self-defense, insanity defense, under the influence defense, and entrapment defense. With expert insights and detailed explanations, you'll gain a better understanding of your legal options for defending yourself against criminal charges.

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Table of Contents

Introduction

Have you ever found yourself facing a criminal charge? The mere thought of it can be overwhelming and terrifying. But don’t worry, you’re not alone. It’s a situation that many people find themselves in at some point in their lives. The good news is that there are several defenses that can be used to fight criminal charges. However, knowing which defense to use and how to use it can be a impossible task.

That’s why we’ve put together this comprehensive guide to help you understand the most common defenses to a criminal charge. By the end of this article, you’ll have a better understanding of your legal options and be better equipped to defend yourself against criminal charges. First we’ll look at the general stages of a criminal case, then talk about why you should hire a lawyer and finally how to build a strong defense. So let’s dive right in!

Understanding the Criminal Justice System

The first step in defending yourself against a criminal charge is to understand the criminal justice system. This includes knowing your rights as a defendant, the different stages of a criminal case, and the possible outcomes of a trial. In general, a criminal case involves the following stages:

  1. Arrest: The police arrest you and charge you with a crime.
  2. Bail: You may be able to post bail to be released from jail while you await trial.
  3. Arraignment: You appear before a judge and enter a plea of guilty or not guilty.
  4. Discovery: The prosecution and defense exchange evidence.
  5. Pretrial Motions: The defense may file motions to suppress evidence or dismiss the case.
  6. Trial: The case goes to trial, and the prosecution must prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt.
  7. Sentencing: If you are found guilty, the judge imposes a sentence.
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Hiring a Criminal Defense Attorney

There’s really no way around this. The most important decision you can make when facing criminal charges is to hire a criminal defense attorney. A skilled attorney can help you understand your rights, assess the strengths and weaknesses of your case, negotiate with the prosecution, and represent you in court. When hiring a criminal defense attorney, look for someone with experience in handling cases similar to yours, a good reputation in the legal community, and strong communication skills. You should also understand the basics of knowing your rights.

Building a Strong Defense

To build a strong defense, you need to gather as much evidence as possible to support your case. This may include witness statements, surveillance footage, forensic evidence, and expert testimony. Your attorney will also investigate the prosecution’s evidence to look for weaknesses or inconsistencies. Depending on the circumstances of your case, your defense strategy may involve arguing that:

  1. The prosecution has insufficient evidence to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt.
  2. The evidence was obtained illegally or through a violation of your rights.
  3. You were acting in self-defense or defense of others.
  4. You were coerced or forced to commit the crime.
  5. You were mistaken for someone else.

Some other common defense strategies include:

  • Challenging the evidence against you: Your attorney may be able to challenge the admissibility of evidence against you, such as by arguing that it was obtained through an illegal search or seizure.
  • Arguing insanity: If you have a mental illness or defect that prevented you from understanding the nature and consequences of your actions, your attorney may be able to argue that you were not responsible for your actions.

What are the most common defenses to a criminal charge?

There are a variety of defenses that can be used to fight a criminal charge, depending on the specific circumstances of the case. Some of the most common defenses include:

  1. Lack of Evidence: If the prosecution does not have enough evidence to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt, a defense attorney may argue that the charges should be dismissed.
  2. Self-Defense: If the defendant acted in self-defense, they may be able to argue that their actions were justified.
  3. Duress: If the defendant was forced to commit the crime under threat of harm, they may be able to argue that they were acting under duress.
  4. Insanity: If the defendant was not in their right mind at the time of the crime, they may be able to argue that they were legally insane and therefore not responsible for their actions.
  5. Entrapment: If law enforcement officials induced the defendant to commit the crime, they may be able to argue that they were entrapped.
  6. Constitutional Violations: If law enforcement officials violated the defendant’s constitutional rights during the course of the investigation or arrest, a defense attorney may be able to argue that the charges should be dismissed.

It is important to note that each case is unique, and the specific defenses available will depend on the facts of the case.

Ok, now that we got the basics out of the way, let’s look at the most common defenses in a criminal charge based on if you did it or if you didn’t do it. Basically there are 2 options:

  1. I didn’t do it; or
  2. I did it, but I shouldn’t be held responsible.

“I didn’t do it” criminal defense

  1. Innocent Until Proven Guilty: Innocent until proven guilty is a fundamental principle of the criminal justice system. Under this principle, a defendant is presumed innocent until the prosecution is able to prove their guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. This means that the burden of proof is on the prosecution to prove each and every element of the crime charged. The defendant is not required to prove their innocence. This principle is designed to protect the rights of the accused and ensure that the government does not unfairly punish individuals who have not been proven guilty of a crime. A defense attorney can help uphold this principle by holding the prosecution accountable for meeting their burden of proof and challenging any evidence or arguments that fall short.
  2. Beyond a Reasonable Doubt: Beyond a reasonable doubt is the highest standard of proof in the criminal justice system. It means that the prosecution must prove each and every element of the crime charged to a degree of certainty that leaves no reasonable doubt in the mind of a reasonable person. This standard is designed to protect the rights of the accused and ensure that individuals are not convicted of a crime based on speculation, conjecture, or incomplete evidence. A defense attorney can help ensure that the prosecution meets this high standard by challenging any evidence or arguments that are not supported by the facts or the law.
  3. I Have an Alibi: An alibi is a defense that involves providing evidence that the defendant was somewhere else at the time the crime was allegedly committed. This evidence can include witnesses, video surveillance footage, or other documentation that places the defendant at a different location at the time of the crime. An alibi defense can be powerful, as it directly challenges the prosecution’s case by undermining their claim that the defendant committed the crime. However, an alibi defense can also be difficult to prove, as it requires the defendant to provide concrete evidence that they were not at the scene of the crime. A defense attorney can help build an alibi defense by investigating the defendant’s whereabouts at the time of the crime and gathering evidence to support their claim.

“I did it, but I shouldn’t be held responsible” criminal defense

  1. Self-Defense: Self-defense is a defense that involves arguing that the defendant’s actions were justified because they were necessary to protect themselves from harm. To successfully assert self-defense, the defendant must show that they believed they were in imminent danger of harm, that the amount of force they used was reasonable in light of the threat they faced, and that they did not provoke the attack. This defense can be difficult to prove, as it requires the defendant to demonstrate that their actions were reasonable under the circumstances. A defense attorney can help build a self-defense defense by investigating the events leading up to the alleged crime, gathering witness statements, and presenting evidence that supports the defendant’s claim of self-defense.
  2. Insanity Defense: The insanity defense is a defense that involves arguing that the defendant was not in their right mind at the time of the crime and therefore cannot be held responsible for their actions. To successfully assert an insanity defense, the defendant must show that they had a mental illness or defect at the time of the crime that prevented them from understanding the wrongfulness of their actions or from conforming their behavior to the law. This defense can be difficult to prove, as it requires the defendant to provide expert testimony and other evidence to support their claim of insanity. A defense attorney can help build an insanity defense by working with mental health experts and presenting evidence that supports the defendant’s claim.
  3. Under the Influence Defense: The under the influence defense is a defense that involves arguing that the defendant’s actions were the result of being under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time of the crime. To successfully assert this defense, the defendant must show that their intoxication was involuntary or that it prevented them from forming the necessary intent to commit the crime. This defense can be difficult to prove, as it requires the defendant to demonstrate that their level of intoxication was so severe that it affected their ability to understand the consequences of their actions. A defense attorney can help build an under the influence defense by gathering evidence of the defendant’s intoxication, working with medical experts to show the effects of the intoxication, and presenting evidence that supports the defendant’s claim.
  4. Entrapment Defense: The entrapment defense is a defense that involves arguing that the defendant was induced to commit the crime by law enforcement officials. To successfully assert this defense, the defendant must show that the government engaged in conduct that would have caused a reasonable person to commit the crime and that the defendant was not predisposed to commit the crime prior to the government’s inducement. This defense can be difficult to prove, as it requires the defendant to demonstrate that the government’s actions were egregious and that they were not predisposed to commit the crime. A defense attorney can help build an entrapment defense by gathering evidence of the government’s conduct, working with witnesses to show that the defendant was not predisposed to commit the crime, and presenting evidence that supports the defendant’s claim.
power of attorney

Negotiating a Plea Deal

In some cases, it may be in your best interest to negotiate a plea deal with the prosecution. This involves agreeing to plead guilty to a lesser charge or accepting a reduced sentence in exchange for avoiding a trial. A plea deal can save you time, money, and the stress of a trial, but it is important to carefully weigh the pros and cons before making a decision.

Going to Trial

If you decide to go to trial, your attorney will present your case to a judge or jury. During the trial, the prosecution must prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt, and your attorney will cross-examine witnesses, present evidence, and argue on your behalf. If the prosecution fails to meet its burden of proof, you will be found not guilty. If you are found guilty, you may have the option to appeal the decision.

FAQs:

Q1. What should I do if I am arrested? A: If you are arrested, you have the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney. It is important to exercise these rights and not say anything to the police until you have spoken to a criminal defense attorney.

Q2. What should I look for when hiring a criminal defense attorney? A: When hiring a criminal defense attorney, look for someone with experience in handling cases similar to yours, a good reputation in the legal community, and strong communication skills. It is also important to choose an attorney who you feel comfortable working with and who is committed to defending your rights.

Q3. Can I represent myself in a criminal case? A: While you have the right to represent yourself in a criminal case, it is not recommended. Criminal cases are complex, and the consequences of a conviction can be severe. It is important to have an experienced criminal defense attorney on your side to help you navigate the legal system and build a strong defense.

Q4. What if the evidence against me is strong? A: Even if the evidence against you is strong, there may still be ways to build a strong defense. Your criminal defense attorney can investigate the prosecution’s evidence to look for weaknesses or inconsistencies and develop a defense strategy that maximizes your chances of success.

Q5. What should I do if I am offered a plea deal? A: If you are offered a plea deal, it is important to carefully consider the pros and cons before making a decision. Your criminal defense attorney can help you assess the strength of the prosecution’s case and advise you on whether a plea deal is in your best interest.

Conclusion

Defending yourself against a criminal charge can be a scary task, but it is possible to increase your chances of success by understanding the criminal justice system, hiring a skilled defense attorney, and building a strong defense. Whether you choose to negotiate a plea deal or go to trial, remember that you have he right to defend yourself and that there are legal options available to you. With the help of an experienced criminal defense attorney, you can navigate the complexities of the criminal justice system and work towards a favorable outcome.

Further Reading:

Criminal Law Basics – Navigating the Criminal Justice System
Protecting Your Legal Rights: Understanding Classifications of Crimes in the USKnow Your Rights: A Comprehensive Guide to Criminal Rights in the US

References:

  1. “Innocent Until Proven Guilty: Origins and Meaning” by History.com: https://www.history.com/news/innocent-until-proven-guilty-origins-meaning
  2. “Beyond a Reasonable Doubt: Definition and Standards” by LegalMatch: https://www.legalmatch.com/law-library/article/beyond-a-reasonable-doubt-definition-and-standards.html
  3. “The Insanity Defense Among the States” by National Conference of State Legislatures: https://www.ncsl.org/research/civil-and-criminal-justice/the-insanity-defense-among-the-states.aspx
  4. “Under the Influence Defense: Can You Use It in Court?” by FindLaw: https://www.findlaw.com/criminal/criminal-charges/under-the-influence-defense-can-you-use-it-in-court-.html
  5. “Entrapment Defense: Definition and Examples” by Justia: https://www.justia.com/criminal/defenses-to-criminal-charges/entrapment/

About the author

Manuel has been a paralegal expert for more than 15 years and works for one of the largest law firm in the state of New York.

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