A mistake of fact defense is a specific type of defense that is raised in certain criminal cases. This type of defense states that the defendant should not be found guilty because they were mistaken about some fact that is central in proving the crime. Every crime has various elements that need to be proven in order for the defendant to be found liable. If a mistake of fact cancels one of these elements, it can serve as a defense.

For instance, the elements for proving malicious mischief include the "malicious destruction" of "another person’s property". If the person reasonably and honestly believed that they were destroying their own property (a mistake of fact), it might serve as a defense for malicious mischief charges.

Is Mistake of Fact Automatically Raised In a Court of Law?

No, in most cases mistake of fact is raised in a court of law by the defendant and their lawyer to identify mistakes of fact and present them during trial as possible a possible defense to the charges. As with other types of defenses, the defendant needs to specifically plead a mistake of fact when presenting their defense case. The court will not help in identifying specific defenses; this is why it’s important that a person hire a qualified legal professional to help with a criminal trial.

What Is an Example of Mistake of Fact Defense?

Mistake of fact can be used in any scenario as a defense where if the fact were to be true, than an element in the criminal conduct would be negated and the person could not be held guilty or accountable of the crime since there was no intent to commit the crime. For example, if someone takes someone else’s property on accident, thinking that the property is theirs, they can use the mistake of fact as a defense and claim that they did not intend to take the property. This will negate the intent to "deprive the property of another" element of theft.

What Are Some Other Types of Defenses?

Some other types of criminal defenses include:

  • Self-defense
  • Intoxication or incapacitation
  • Insanity
  • Alibi (for instance, the defendant was at a different place during the time of the crime’s commission)

Mistakes of law (i.e., not knowing that an action was illegal) are generally not enough to serve as a defense. Defense laws may vary widely from state to state.

Should I Hire a Lawyer for Help with Mistake of Fact Defenses?

A mistake of fact can be an important part of a criminal case. You may wish to hire a criminal lawyer immediately if you need representation for a criminal case. Your attorney can provide you with legal advice on the matters and can help determine what types of defenses can be raised during trial.