In order for a prosecutor to convict you of a crime in a California criminal court, they have to be able to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. All defendants are provided an opportunity to put up a defense against their charges, typically with legal representation from a criminal defense lawyer.
Experienced criminal lawyers will always seek to find a weakness in the prosecutor's case in order to determine an appropriate strategy for best possible outcome.
These are a wide range of available defenses options, but of course, all depend on the specific details and circumstances of the case. It's important to make note that every criminal case is unique and will require a close examination of the situation in order to start developing a strategy. Obviously, not every defense will fit every crime.
If you were accused of a crime, the prosecutor in a California State criminal court must be to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
By law, this is the highest standard of proof – essentially meaning that the evidence presented by a prosecutor must exclude all reasonable alternative theories of liability – and has to leave a jury with an abiding conviction of the truth of the criminal charges.
For criminal lawyers, the defense of reasonable doubt is almost always an argument on behalf of their client, even in a situation where another more specific defense might also apply.
Even in a situation where jurors are convinced there is some evidence of guilt, an experienced defense lawyer will inform them they are legally bound to acquit their client if the prosecution's high burden of proof was not met.
Alibi or Mistaken Identity
In some criminal cases, the identity of the suspect could be in doubt. This often occurs in a situation where identification from an eyewitness who didn't have a good view of the incident, or they are biased, or from conflicting identifications between other witnesses.
When a criminal lawyer is attempting to establish their client was not in fact the suspect who committed the crime – an alibi witness – i.e. someone who is able to testify their client was somewhere else when the crime occurred is crucial.
See CALCRIM 3400 Jury Instructions for more detailed information about an alibi defense.
Self-Defense or Defense of Others
In California criminal cases involving an assault type charge, the use of reasonable and proportionate force to protect oneself or another is often used by criminal attorneys on behalf of their client.
It should be noted the key element in this type of argument is whether the force used by their client was reasonable under the circumstances.
For example, if someone pushes you at a bar, which is a misdemeanor battery, it would not be reasonable self-defense to pull out a weapon and shoot them. However, pushing the person away to create space to get out of the situation would be considered reasonable.
Clearly, common sense applies in arguments by a criminal lawyer as a self-defense claim is fact-specific.
See CALCRIM 3470 Jury Instructions for more information on the right to self-defense.
Mistake of Fact
Some California crimes require that you knew, or should reasonably know, certain crucial facts. For example, a trespassing crime requires that you knowingly entered onto another person's property without permission.
In this example, suppose you reasonably believed you had permission to enter a property when in fact the permission was revoked without your knowledge.
This could be considered a reasonable mistake of fact defense to the trespassing charge. However, some mistake of fact defenses is unreasonable, or can't be asserted for public policy reasons.
It should be noted this type of defense requires some proof it was a good-faith mistake.
See CALCRIM 3406 Jury instructions for more information about a mistake of fact defense.
In a limited number of criminal cases, it might be possible to use an accident defense. To be criminal, conduct must be voluntarily, if not intentional, depending on the specific nature of the charges.
A genuine accident, even in a situation where injury or property damage occurred, can't form the basis of criminal conduct. If you accidentally commit some act that is considered a crime, but did so without criminal intent or negligence, you should not be held criminally liability.
However, it should be noted that some conduct, such as driving under the influence, is criminal even if you didn't intend to commit a crime or cause harm to other people.
See CALCRIM 3404 Jury Instructions for more information on the accident defense.
The duress doctrine states you are not liable for criminal acts that were committed under threat of imminent physical harm to yourself or a member of your family.
Duress will excuse criminal liability if you commit a crime because another person's threats or menacing actions compelled you to do it.
For example, perhaps you have been charged with bank robbery, but your criminal lawyer can show you only committed the crime because someone forced you with treats of violence – or a family member would be killed if they refused.
Duress would not apply as an excuse to commit murder under Penal Code 187. Obviously, a duress defense only applies in limited situations
See CALCRIM 3402 Jury Instructions for more information about a duress defense.
You can't be prosecuted for conduct the government itself induced – which is commonly known as entrapment and is a complete defense to many crimes.
It should be noted if you were predisposed to the criminal conduct and law enforcement merely provided you with the opportunity to do an unlawful act that you would have committed anyway, this would not be considered entrapment.
For example, when law enforcement pretends to be a drug dealer and makes an arrangement to buy drugs from you, no entrapment occurred.
However, if you made it clear to law enforcement you had no interest in participating in some type of fraud scheme, for example, but agents pressured you to participate, in spite of your objections, you could make a reasonable argument for entrapment.
See CALCRIM 3408 Jury Instructions for more information on an entrapment defense.
Suppression and Constitutional Issues
Evidence in criminal cases is frequently seized through a search warrant. However, searches can occur without a warrant through exceptions to the warrant requirement of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution.
There are times when the justification for the search is questionable. Therefore, a criminal defense lawyer can pursue a motion to suppress. If successful, any evidence seized in violation of your constitutional rights can't be used in court.
If the evidence is crucial to the prosecutor's case, raising the constitutional issue could serve as a complete defense to the criminal charges.
Other Less Common Defenses in Criminal Cases
When someone is insane, they are not aware of the nature and consequences of their actions and can't form a mental state required to be guilty – but could be committed to a State Hospital for treatment. See CALCRIM 3450 Jury Instructions for more information on insanity defense.
Unconsciousness or Intoxication
Similar to insanity defense, unconsciousness or intoxication might be valid where you weren't able to form to required mental state to commit the crime. See CALCRIM 3425 for more information about this type of defense.
In rare situations, commission of a crime might be necessary to prevent greater harm either to property or to a person. See CALCRIM 3403 Jury Instructions for more information about necessity defense.
In certain criminal cases, facts and circumstances might lead our criminal defense lawyers to use more than one of the options listed above. Every case his unique and will need to be closely examined to determine an appropriate strategy for best outcome.
If you have been accused of a crime, our criminal defense attorneys will review your case and options. For more information about defenses to crimes, call us for a free case evaluation.