A misdemeanor is a crime punishable by up to one year in jail. Misdemeanor offenses include crimes such as simple assault, simple theft, and minor DUI offenses. An individual charged with a misdemeanor offense may claim one or more defenses. A defense is a reason that justifies or excuses a criminal act. If a defendant asserts a defense, the defendant may be given a lesser sentence, or not be convicted of the crime at all.

What are Some Common Defenses to Misdemeanors?

Common misdemeanor defenses include:

  • Intoxication: The two defenses to intoxication are involuntary intoxication and voluntary intoxication. Involuntary intoxication occurs when a defendant becomes intoxicated against their will. Involuntary intoxication can occur without the defendant’s knowledge.  Involuntary intoxication is a defense to crimes requiring specific intent. For example, to convict a defendant of assault, the prosecution must prove intent to commit a battery. If a defendant was involuntarily intoxicated, the intoxication may have prevented them from having that intent. Involuntary intoxication is a defense to general intent crimes. To commit a general intent crime, must intend to commit an action. If involuntary intoxication makes it impossible to avoid committing the action, a defendant can assert involuntary intoxication. 
    • Voluntary intoxication is a defense to a specific intent crime. For example, the crime of obtaining property by false pretenses requires an intentional misstatement of a fact. Voluntary intoxication may prevent a defendant from forming the intent to make the misstatement;
  • Mistake of Fact: A defendant can assert the defense of mistake of fact. Under mistake of fact, a defendant is mistaken about the existence of a fact needed to prove the crime. For example, the crime of larceny requires that a defendant take the property of a victim, with the intent to permanently deprive the victim of the property. If the defendant has a reasonable belief that the property was the defendant’s, and not the victim’s, then the defendant did not intend to permanently deprive the victim of the victim’s property;
  • Self-defense: This defense allows a defendant to use reasonable force to prevent an imminent threat of violence by another person. Under this defense, a defendant may only use that amount of defense that is proportionate to the threat level posed by the aggressor. This means, for example, that a defendant cannot use deadly force in self-defense when the threatened violence is minor or slight;
  • Duress: This defense can be pled when a defendant faces an immediate threat of  injury. The defendant will be injured unless the defendant commits a specific crime. The defendant has no opportunity to avoid the threat, except by committing the crime;
  • Imperfect self-defense: Under the defense of “imperfect self-defense,” a defendant has a sincere belief that force is necessary to prevent injury. However, the belief is unreasonable. For example, a defendant thinks someone is about to strike them. There is no reasonable basis for this thought. If a defendant pleads this defense, the severity of the crime may be reduced; and
  • Necessity: A defendant may plead the defense of necessity when the defendant commits an act that is a crime, to prevent an even greater crime from occurring.  A defendant can also plead the necessity defense when their act was necessary to deal with an emergency situation.

Can a Defense Reduce a Charge or Prevent Conviction?

If a defendant proves a defense, the defendant is eligible for a reduction in sentence. Imperfect self-defense is an example of a defense that, if proven, can reduce the time of a jail sentence.

Proving a defense may prevent a conviction. To convict a defendant, the prosecution must prove each element of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. If a defense disproves one or more elements of the crime, then the defendant cannot be convicted of the crime.

What Level of Proof is Required to Prove Self-Defense?

A defendant who asserts a defense must prove that defense at trial. In some states, a defendant must prove a defense by a preponderance of the evidence. This means that a defendant must prove that the allegations making up the defense are more likely true than they are not true.

In other states, the defendant must raise a basis for the defense that is plausible. If a defendant does so, the prosecution must then disprove the defense beyond a reasonable doubt. 

In some states, a defendant must prove a defense by clear and convincing evidence. A defendant must present evidence that is substantially more likely to be true than not.

Do I Need the Help of a Lawyer to Defend Against a Misdemeanor Charge?

If you are facing a misdemeanor charge or misdemeanor charges, you should consult a criminal defense attorney. A criminal defense attorney near you can review the facts and circumstances of your case, assist you with your defense, and represent you in court.