Sometimes, a defendant can be cleared of a charge if they were mistaken about some aspect of the crime. For example, if the defendant erroneously grabbed a phone they thought was theirs, it may serve as a theft defense. You’d have to demonstrate that the defendant intended to deprive another person of their belongings to prove theft permanently. Therefore, if the defendant thought that the item was theirs, they intended not to deprive someone of their belongings.
Mistakes of fact only serve as defenses when they negate an element of evidence of the crime, as indicated in the example above. Another kind of mistake is a mistake of law, where the defendant was in error about a law. For example, if a defendant purchased marijuana because they thought it was legal to do so when it wasn’t, that would be a mistake of law. Mistakes of law usually can’t serve as criminal defenses.
What’s an Example of a Mistake of Fact?
Mistakes of fact have to do with the alleged criminal activity’s facts and circumstances.
Examples of mistakes of fact include:
- Mistakes regarding a person’s identity or characteristics (such as their age or gender)
- Misconceptions regarding the ownership of property (for instance, believing that a property item was your own)
- Errors in identifying locations, street names, and other geographic characteristics
- Mistakes regarding weights, measures, and other measurements
What Is Criminal Procedure?
Criminal procedure refers to the general legal process of adjudicating claims for a person accused of violating criminal laws. The central idea behind all criminal procedures is the “presumption of innocence,” meaning that a suspect is innocent until proven guilty.
The criminal procedure includes matters such as:
- Stop, detention, and arrest;
- Search and seizure;
- Booking and filing charges;
- Suspect or eyewitness lineup Identifications;
- Appointment of counsel (assigning a court-appointed lawyer);
- Plea bargaining;
- Criminal evidence;
- Criminal sentencing;
- Appeal; and
- Probation and parole.
There are considerable criminal justice careers an individual can choose to engage in, including:
- Court clerk;
- Court reporter;
- Court register;
- Defense attorney;
- Forensic evidence scientist;
- Immigration agent;
- Legal assistant;
- Legal researcher;
- Prosecutor; and
- Police or law enforcement officer.
How Does Criminal Law Procedure Work?
Only two bodies can bring a criminal case against someone, the federal government or a state government. This is why you see cases stylized as US v. Someone or State v. Someone.
Whether the accused is charged in federal court or a state court depends on what crime they are being charged with and where the alleged offense occurred. Every state has its own set of criminal laws, but certain Constitutional rights apply to every defendant, no matter what that crime is or where it happened.
- Right to a speedy trial: The Sixth Amendment guarantees a criminal defendant the right to a speedy trial to prevent an accused person from being kept in jail for extended periods without adjudication;
- Right to a jury: The Sixth Amendment also ensures the right to a trial by jury. Many jurisdictions permit the defendant to waive a jury in favor of a bench trial, where a judge determines guilt, but this is the defendant’s choice only. This right is universal with criminal prosecution only, as civil trials have their own rules regarding jury rights;
- Miranda rights: Stemming from a famous Supreme Court case, Miranda rights give the criminal defendant access to an attorney whether or not they can afford one to aid in their defense; and
- Protection against self-incrimination: Also known as “pleading the fifth,” this Constitutional protection states that a defendant cannot be forced to testify against their own interest.
If an individual thinks their rights have been violated due to police misconduct, they should contact a lawyer as soon as possible.
What Is a Defense Strategy?
In criminal law, a defense strategy is an overall approach that the defense counsel takes to deliver legal relief for the defendant. This may include the application of various legal concepts and arguments. It may include an examination of mistakes of fact which might serve to support the defendant’s innocence.
While mistakes of law are generally not considered criminal defenses, a proper defense strategy will evaluate all aspects of the situation, including any mistakes of law. These will be accounted for, as they can frequently provide information regarding the defendant’s mental state during the alleged commission of the crime.
How is a Defense Strategy Formed?
You and your criminal defense lawyer work together when you create your defense strategy. This strategy usually emerges when the lawyer discovers what evidence the prosecution has along with your version of the event.
It would help if you always told your lawyer the whole true story so they can help you adequately. A defense strategy is created when you and your attorney fit together the version of events that is more likely to produce a satisfactory outcome for you. For instance, you are not guilty because you acted in self-defense. It is up to the lawyer and you to develop the most legally helpful, accurate version of events relevant to the case and consistent with physical evidence.
Are There Other Reasons to Tell the Truth to my Lawyer?
Yes, the truth might indicate that you are guilty, but only of a less-serious offense. If the defendant lies and insists on complete innocence and the evidence is against them, the attorney can’t arrive at a realistic plea bargain or ask the jury to convict on the lesser offense.
A defendant’s honest story might reveal facts that suggest such a result. The defense attorney can also use such facts to argue for minimum punishments if you are convicted. For instance, the defendant was duped into committing the crime.
What Kind of Defense Strategies Are there?
Every defense will be different based on the details of the case. Nevertheless, most defenses will fall into one of three categories:
- Denial: the defendant will claim that they are entirely innocent. Such defenses utilize alibis and the fact that a jury must be beyond a reasonable doubt to convict a defendant.
- Admission: the defendant will admit that some facts cited by the prosecution are true, but the outcome is different from what the prosecution believes. For instance, if fingerprints are present at the scene of a robbery, an admission defense would say that the defendant was indeed at the scene but that the defendant was a customer, not a criminal.
- Confession: the defendant admits to guilt, but there may be mitigating factors that might lessen the sentence. Insanity is an example of such defense. Remember that the defense lawyer cannot lie, nor can the defense lawyer enable others to lie. The defense strategy will rely on the type of evidence that the prosecution can bring to the case.
Should I Hire My Own Lawyer for Help with Mistakes of Fact?
Defense strategies can often involve multiple different laws and legal theories. These are best handled by a professional who can deliver you direction and advice on how to proceed.
Hiring your criminal lawyer can help ensure that your rights as a defendant are being defended. Your lawyer can help determine whether a legal defense is available in your favor.