When facing criminal charges, you have the constitutional right to defend yourself in a court of law. However, your chances of acquittal are slimmer than you may think. Of the 2.3% of cases that see trial, only 0.4% end in acquittal. To avoid sentencing, you need the help of an experienced attorney and a strong defense.
What Is the Best Defense?
No one defense guarantees an acquittal. Instead, your lawyer should consider your unique circumstances and decide which approach best applies to your situation.
Evidence is one of the most important factors to consider when building a defense. If the evidence doesn’t support your version of events, convincing the jury to acquit may be more challenging. There’s also the strength of the evidence to consider:
- Is it circumstantial or physical?
- Is the evidence taken out of context?
- Is the integrity of the evidence in question?
During discovery, your attorney should have the opportunity to examine evidence that supports your defense and review the above questions. The strength of the prosecution’s case should affect which defense strategy your lawyer chooses.
While popular culture often dramatizes the plea of innocence, you don’t have to prove your innocence for acquittal. There are a variety of tested legal strategies to achieve this end, including pointing out technical blunders committed by the police or court. The prosecutor must prove your guilt; you only need to provide a reasonable doubt.
Considering this, your counsel will likely use several common defense strategies. These have ample legal standing, allowing attorneys to build a case based on successful past acquittals. The following are some of the most effective defenses to criminal charges.
You’ve likely heard this defense in murder cases, but it can also apply to other violent charges, such as battery and assault. The legal system acknowledges that individuals who feel endangered can exercise a reasonable amount of force to protect themselves. Depending on the case, they may even strike first to prevent harm. For example, if someone threatened you with a knife, and you hit them with a blunt object, you may argue that your fear for your life justified your actions.
However, if you subdue an attacker and continue to inflict violence, the self-defense argument no longer applies. Once you are out of danger, it’s no longer self-defense.
There are two other arguments similar to self-defense: defense-of-property and defense-of-others. They have similar limitations in that you cannot continue to inflict harm once the danger has passed. Additionally, you can’t use defense-of-property on a murder charge. A person’s right to life supersedes property in all cases.
You can argue self-defense or defense-of-others against a murder charge. Juries typically review the following questions to determine if the situation justified the defendant’s actions:
- Was the threat imminent, or did the victim believe it was so?
- Is there a legal obligation for victims to retreat before resorting to violence?
- Did the attacker only act once provoked by the victim?
In some states, the location of the attack makes a difference. South Carolina has “stand your ground” laws, which allow victims to use deadly force in self-defense. The one caveat is that the victims must have the right to be in the location, such as their own homes or public spaces. If the victim trespassed during the encounter, the “stand your ground” doctrine doesn’t apply.
Sometimes, a defendant commits a crime without meaning to. When the law requires intent for the action to be criminal, the defendant can use the situation’s accidental nature as a defense.
For example, if you hit a pedestrian with your vehicle, you can avoid legal complications if you weren’t negligent. That means following all traffic laws, including contacting the police and staying at the scene. Evidence of extenuating circumstances can boost your defense:
- The pedestrian jaywalked.
- The road was in poor condition, lacked appropriate signage or exhibited poor design that interfered with drivers’ ability to see.
- Weather conditions made it difficult to see or perform evasive maneuvers.
Additionally, two defense strategies justify the defendant’s ignorance: mistake of law and mistakes of fact. Mistake of law has very narrow applications, as ignorance of the law is rarely accepted in court. Individuals have a responsibility to educate themselves about local laws — including those of cities or states they visit. To prevent abuse of this defense, courts generally only accept this strategy under the following circumstances:
- An official provided an erroneous interpretation of the law to the defendant.
- The defendant acted under the justification of a law overruled by a judicial decision.
- The defendant was unaware that the courts deemed the law unconstitutional.
- The law broken by the defendant remains unpublished.
Mistakes of fact are easier to argue. First, the mistakes must be reasonable, and second, they must be genuine.
For example, you ask your friend if you can stay at his place. Based on his response, you believe he gives permission. You then enter his home, only to get arrested for trespassing after your friend calls the police. If your communications show that a reasonable person would assume your friend gave permission and you believed the offer was genuine, you can effectively use mistakes of fact as a defense.
If you didn’t commit the crime the authorities are charging you with, you can argue your innocence. For example, if you were in a different place when the crime was in progress, you can use the alibi defense.
This strategy only works if the charge requires the defendant to be physically present for the crime. For instance, if you stand accused of stealing a car but were in another country at the time, the alibi defense may be effective. If you stand accused of stealing someone else’s identity, your physical location is practically meaningless.
The quality of your alibi is also essential. Testimony from significant others, family and friends means little to a jury, as these individuals may lie to protect a loved one. Objective evidence of your location is much more effective:
- ATM receipts
- Security camera footage
- Work time-clock
You can also raise reasonable doubt by pointing out a more likely culprit. Remember, the burden of proof is on the prosecution; you can bring the charges into question with a few arguments:
- The authorities didn’t adequately pursue other leads.
- The evidence is conflicting or implicates someone else.
- The police department has a history of racial or other bias.
You can also establish your innocence by asserting that no crime occurred. For example, while the police may have evidence that you planned to commit an unlawful act, you can argue abandonment or withdrawal if you didn’t go through with it. Keep in mind that this approach isn’t practical against conspiracy to commit charges, which only require one co-conspirator to perform the illegal act.
Another argument for innocence is that the victim gave consent. This is a common defense in sexual assault accusations, but it can also apply to theft and other charges. In these situations, the prosecution must prove that the victim didn’t consent, which can be challenging, especially in cases with little physical evidence.
Where Can You Find an Experience Criminal Defense Lawyer?
Are you facing criminal charges? If so, The Jeff Coat Firm Carolina Defense Lawyers lawyers can help. Call today or visit our website to schedule a consultation.