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Types of Defenses to Criminal Charges

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Disclaimer: This article is not intended as legal advice and does not reflect the opinions of the Law Office of Brett A. Podolsky.

Whenever a crime is committed, it is the job of the prosecution to prove that the accused committed the crime, beyond any shred of reasonable doubt. In fact, many times the alleged criminal act can have a number of justifications or ‘defenses’ that can result in acquitting the accused or in diminishing part of the charges faced by the accused.

One of the remarkable aspects about criminal justice is the fact that the accused or ‘defendant’ gets the opportunity to seek legal representation. This representation, in the form of a legal attorney, can help to build a case that outlines any and all defenses that can enlighten the court about the accused person’s innocence. But since the nature of the alleged crimes can vastly vary, the nature of the defenses on which the defendant’s case rests can also vary and it is important to understand the standard criminal defenses used in court.

Rejecting the Prosecution’s Charge Altogether

Most often than not, the defense builds and establishes the claim that the accused did not commit the crime at all.

Innocent until proven guilty: For every case that goes to court or settles, the person accused is legally considered innocent until the prosecution can prove their guilt. This means that the prosecution has to proactively work to build a case that establishes that the accused did indeed commit the crime rather than the defendant’s party having to proactively prove their innocence. In practice, when the prosecution presents evidence and witnesses in court, the defense chooses to present their own evidence and witnesses to counteract those presented by the prosecution.

Beyond a reasonable doubt: In reality, in many cases, the job of the prosecution is quite difficult because they have to prove ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ that the defendant is in fact guilty. The defense can actually use this heavy responsibility on the prosecution to convince the jury (or judge) that merely thinking the accused is guilty is not enough to warrant a conviction, nor is evidence or witnesses that only serve to cast doubt on the innocence of the accused.

Defense of the alibi: This is a powerful defense because depending on who gives the alibi, it can actually prove beyond a reasonable doubt, the innocence of the accused. The alibi defense is basically a testimony or evidence that proves that the defendant or accused was present somewhere other than at the scene of the crime, when the crime happened.

Affirmative Criminal Defense

Apart from these types of defense, your defense attorney can prepare a number of defenses that are categorized as affirmative criminal defense. These are called so because early on in the case, some of the evidence presented by the prosecution is taken to be true. The defense then has to come up with evidence that manages to acquit the accused by establishing their innocence. Most of these defenses have to do either with the mental/physical condition of the accused and their surrounding circumstances at the time of the crime.

Self-Defense: This is a very commonly used defense, normally pursued by those defendants who have been charged for using some sort of violence such as assault, battery or even murder. The defense party admits that the accused used violence but they assert that doing so was justifiably provoked by the other party’s violent actions. Some pertinent questions that need to be answered in this case include:

  • Who was the first person to use violence or aggression?
  • Was it reasonable for the defendant to use violence in return for example, to protect themselves?
  • Was the amount of violence or force used by the defendant reasonable to be qualified as self-defense?

Every person is allowed to protect themselves in threatening situations and defense attorneys can establish that the accused did not actually have to wait for the moment to get struck in order to defend themselves. In any case, what the defense has to prove is that the force used by the defendant was only enough for self-defense and not more.

Insanity Defense: This type of defense brings to the forefront the idea that the defendant is emotionally incapable of acting in a certain way. It is based on the legal principle that accused people who are fully able to control their decisions and actions and can comprehend the results of their actions, should be punished for their crimes. If a person is not emotionally stable to make reasonable decisions or act in a certain way, then they should not be punished for crimes they may have committed in a state of insanity.

This defense is not commonly used because it is difficult to prove. But it can be done with the help of medical records, eye witnesses and other evidence that can prove that the accused was suffering from a serious mental or emotional condition at the time of the crime.

Duress and Coercion: This type of criminal defense asserts that the accused had to commit the crime because they were being forced to do so by someone else. The threat of using unlawful force to make the accused commit the crime is enough to establish this defense. Furthermore, the threat of force does not necessarily have to be against the accused defendant; it can be against someone else as well, like a family member or relative for example.

Abandonment and Withdrawal: Also known as renunciation, this defense is based on the idea that the accused was planning to commit the crime or help someone else do it but they decided against it. For this defense, it is important that the defendant’s actions beforehand should not have influenced the crime itself in any way or the defendant must have contacted the police before the crime took place.

Other Criminal Defenses: Some other standard criminal defenses include the following:

  • Defense of consent which states that the crime which harmed the other person was agreed to in advance by that person.
  • If you declare being in a state of intoxication, it won’t clear you of all charges but it can establish that your intent was clear.
  • If the prosecution takes a long time in bringing charges against the defendant, then the defense can establish the statute of limitations.


Attorney Michael S. O’Meara
has been licensed to practice law since 1994 and is a former criminal prosecutor who represents individuals accused of all felonies.

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