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What Are the Four Major Criminal Law Defenses?


expunge criminal recordCriminal defenses are strategies created by defense attorneys to help create reasonable doubt in their client’s case. Criminal courts require that a judge or jury determine guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, and a good defense can help establish enough doubt that a conviction is not justified. In criminal cases, there are usually four primary defenses used: innocence, self-defense, insanity, and constitutional violations.

Each of these has their uses, and not all cases can use these defense strategies. It is important to note that only an experienced criminal attorney can help decide which defense strategy applies to you, and then they will argue on your behalf in court – hoping that they provide enough doubt in the judge or jurors minds to help you receive an acquittal.

Exploring the Four Major Criminal Law Defenses Used Today

While there are definitely more than four, these four are the most common, and they are some you are most likely familiar with already.

Actual Innocence Defense – You Didn’t Do It

It sounds simple enough, and it should be. If you didn’t do it, then why not argue that you are innocent. However, it takes more than just taking the witness stand and saying you didn’t do it. Instead, your attorney would build his or her defense around that innocence. They find witnesses, experts to testify, and even find evidence that helps show you didn’t commit the crime or there was no way you could have committed it. Sometimes, that means having a strong alibi witness, while other times it means presenting enough evidence in court that another party should be convicted of the crime instead of the defendant.

The prosecution still has to prove to the court beyond a reasonable doubt that you are guilty – it is not your job. However, the more evidence you can present to counter anything the prosecutor uses, the easier it will be to show that the prosecution cannot prove their case.

Self-Defense – You Did It, But to Protect Yourself or Others

Self-defense claims are often used in instances of assault, battery, and even murder. In these cases, the defendant claims that he or she harmed or killed the victim to protect themselves from threats of violent action. Self-defense claims, unlike in the movies, are hard to win. Not only must the prosecutor show that the defendant had no reason to use such drastic measures, but the defense often must prove that there was an incredible risk of danger to the defendant and that justified his or her actions.

The defense of others may also apply in these cases. In this instance, the defendant harmed or killed the victim to defend themselves or someone else from violent acts that would have happened against them if they did not intervene. For example, someone pointing a gun at a person’s head, threatening to harm that person.

Usually, the defendant is protecting family and loved ones, but there are instances where the defendant is protecting someone that they do not know.

Insanity Defense – You Were Not of Sound Mind at the Time

Unfortunately, TV and movies have given a false impression of what it means to be “insane” at the time of a criminal act. This defense does not apply in all situations, and insanity defenses are considered affirmative ones. This means that, instead of poking holes in the prosecutor’s case, the burden falls on you. Now, the defense must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant was suffering or suffered at the time a mental illness or defect that caused them to commit the act.

What Makes the Insanity Defense So Difficult?

To claim insanity, the defense must show that the defendant could not determine right from wrong at the time of the crime, or they had an impulse that was irresistible. In that case, they would have been aware that they were doing something wrong but were unable to stop themselves from doing so.

Also, to use the insanity defense, the defendant is basically admitting guilt, but saying that their guilt should be excused because they were insane at the time.  It is a very risky defense strategy to use, and only one a good attorney uses it when it is possible to prove beyond a reasonable doubt. If the jury were to doubt a defendant’s mental status at all, it is most likely not worth it for the defense to risk this strategy.

Constitutional Violations

Whether you have committed a crime or not, you are entitled to specific protections under the U.S. Constitution. In a criminal trial, constitutional violations come up a lot, especially when it comes to how a defendant was treated, the circumstances of his or her arrest, and even how the evidence was collected to use against them. 

Often, a good Constitutional violation can result in the charges being dismissed entirely or force the prosecution to agree to a plea bargain for a much less severe charge. These are the violations attorneys will immediately look for, because they are a powerful, effective defense. 

Some examples of constitutional violations include:

  • Not reading a defendant their Miranda warning;
  • Illegally searching and seizing evidence from the defendant’s vehicle or home;
  • Failure to obtain a warrant;
  • Obtaining a coerced confession; and
  • Breaking the chain of custody on evidence collected.

Have You Been Arrested for a Crime? Contact a Defense Attorney Now

Do not guess which defense strategy will apply to your case. Instead, speak with a skilled defense attorney in the state of New Mexico that has years of experience handling these types of cases. The team at New Mexico Criminal Law Offices can help you with your defense. We aggressively fight for our clients, and we make sure that prosecutors do not prosecute the wrong person for a crime.

To explore your defense options, speak with our highly experienced defense team today during a free case evaluation. Schedule yours by calling our office or requesting more information about our legal defense services online.

Explore your legal defense options. To avoid the long-term consequences, speak with our highly skilled attorneys. Call us today and learn how we can help.