What are defenses in criminal law?
If you have been accused of a crime, sooner or later you will need to decide whether you want to plead guilty or present a defense. If you do plead not guilty, there are a few general forms your defense might take.
In a negative defense, you and your attorney will either try to prove your innocence or try to prove that the prosecution does not have sufficient evidence that you are guilty of the crime of which you are accused. In order to prove your innocence, you may present evidence such as alibi witnesses who can testify that you were in a different place when the crime was committed. You may gather evidence that can point the finger at another person who may have committed the crime in order to raise doubt that you were the perpetrator. Remember that the prosecution’s job is to prove a defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, so the defendant doesn’t necessarily have to prove his or her innocence. Simply poking enough holes in the prosecution’s case may be enough to find a defendant not guilty.
Self-defense or Justification
In an affirmative defense, you may admit that you committed the crime but present evidence that you were forced to do so in some way. For example, if you have been accused of assaulting another person, your defense may be that this person attacked you first, and you were simply defending yourself. This type of defense may also be used if you were defending another person from imminent harm.
Another type of defense in which you admit that you committed the act but should not be held responsible for a crime is an insanity defense. Despite what TV shows and movies may suggest, an insanity defense is not often employed and is even less often successful. The standard rule of thumb for an insanity defense is that the defendant must have been unable to tell the difference between right and wrong at the time of the crime due to mental illness of some kind. This defense may also be successful if it is found that the defendant was suffering from mental illness at the time of the crime to such a degree that they could not know what they were doing.
A procedural defense might be possible if a defendant’s constitutional rights were violated in the process of investigating a crime. For instance, an illegal search can cause evidence obtained from that search to be thrown out. If a defendant was not given a Miranda warning, any subsequent confession can be thrown out of evidence. If the removal of improperly gathered evidence weakens the prosecution’s case enough, the charges may be dismissed or the prosecution may offer a plea deal for lesser charges.
Planning Your Defense
If you have been charged with a serious crime, deciding which defense to put forward is a crucial part of your defense strategy. You will work together with your public defender or Tucson criminal defense attorney to gather evidence and witnesses to support your defense. It is important to keep in mind that the burden of proof in a criminal case is on the prosecution. A defendant does not need to prove his or her innocence. That being said, having alibi witnesses, proof that you could not have committed the crime, or proof that someone else probably committed the crime makes for a much stronger case than simply hoping that a judge or jury will agree that the prosecution has failed to provide sufficient evidence of your guilt.