Legal Defense Guide
17 Best Criminal Defense Lawyer Strategies vs Prosecutors
There are many criminal defense strategies and defense lawyer tactics available to fight criminal charges and win. And long treatises written on strategies and techniques in criminal defense.
The job of a skilled criminal defense lawyer is to select the best criminal defense attorney tactics after reviewing a case's facts and circumstances.
Defense Lawyer Tactics
Determining the best criminal defense strategy and fighting criminal charges in court requires knowledge of arcane legal procedure, experience, judgement and a careful evaluation of all the following criminal prosecutor vs lawyer factors.
The 9 main factors that will determine your best defense strategy:
- Defendant's explanation of what happened & why
- Witness testimony
- Witness and defendant credibility and reputation
- Provable facts and physical evidence
- Police investigation reports, errors & credibility
- Expert or third party reports and testimony
- Penal code charge and the required crime elements to prove
- Criminal prosecutor strategy and prior history
- Judicial precedent and the judge's case history
The best criminal lawyers will weigh all these factors to develop a case theory and strategy most likely to succeed.
If you are facing prison time or harsh penalties, it is key to consult a top criminal defense attorney. No matter how smart you are, it is nearly impossible for non-lawyers to competently defend themselves.
Every case is unique and skilled lawyers must have the ability to identify the key arguments and elements of a crime that will drive the outcome.
The 17 Best Legal Defenses to Crimes
1. Mistaken Identity
Incorrect witness identification is a major source for incorrect accusations. This can happen if a person’s description is similar to a criminal perpetrator or if a witness assumes someone committed a crime due to circumstances or they are trying to cover for a crime they committed.
Most offenses in California’s Penal Code include deliberate offenses in which the violator intentionally carried out the crime. If your criminal justice lawyer can show the act to be accidental, there is a substantial defense against the charge.
3. Duress or Immediate Danger
In the event that somebody carries out a crime simply because they believed they were in immediate risk of harm, their actions might not be considered a crime since they were made under duress.
4. Defendant has an Alibi
A defendant cannot be guilty of many offenses if their criminal defense attorney can show they were elsewhere when the crime occurred and therefore couldn't have committed the alleged crime.
Entrapment happens when a normally law-abiding citizen commits an offense because of intimidation, coercion, or law enforcement going too far to persuade someone to violate the law. This is common with undercover police operations. Entrapment is most often raised by a good lawyer as a defense in court for prostitution, child pornography and drug offenses.
6. Police Misconduct
Unfortunately some law enforcement officials commit misconduct during their investigations. Police officers may wish to cover up a mistake they made during their initial investigation or they may just be convinced a suspect is guilty and engage in misconduct in order to build a stronger case.
Police misconduct can take many forms, but some of the most common are:
- Lying or embellishing facts in court room testimony or in their reports
- Improperly handling, planting or doctoring evidence
- Using unnecessary force like tasers or pepper spray on cooperative subjects
- Coercing witnesses and suspects
If your criminal defence lawyer can identify and prove police misconduct, then that may provide leverage for dismissing your case and potentially pursuing a civil rights claim seeking damages.
7. Compelled or False Confessions
In many cases, police have been known to coerce false admissions from innocent suspects using different mental strategies and even physical threats, starvation, and sleep deprivation. Juveniles are particularly vulnerable to coercion. If defense attorney trial tactics can show evidence of coercion, then a case can be made to have the admission tossed out.
8. Probable Cause
In 1968, the US Supreme Court ruled in the Terry vs. Ohio case that it is reasonable for an officer to stop an individual absent probable cause to arrest, as long as he can point to "specific articulable facts" that justify “probable cause” for the stop, search and arrest of that person. If there is not probable cause, defense can file a motion to suppress any improperly obtained evidence.
9. Falsely Accused
It is common that individuals are falsely accused of violations they didn’t commit. For example, child abuse, sex crime and domestic violence accusations can be made without any physical evidence. Top criminal defense attorneys can work to obtain a retraction of the accusation or show evidence that the accusations were false or impugn the credibility of the accuser.
10. Mistake of Fact
If an alleged crime was made under a reasonable and honest mistake of fact, then the person is not guilty of most criminal offenses. For example, accidentally taking someone’s property believing it was yours.
In California the legal defence of “necessity” excuses criminal conduct when it is done only to avoid a greater harm. An accused can be acquitted of a charge if they believe that they or another person is in danger or about to be harmed and the only reasonable alternative is to do the criminal act. The necessity to commit the crime must be provable with evidence.
12. Self Defense or Defense of Others
California recognizes the “castle doctrine” which applies to one’s home, place of business, or other real property. An individual injuring another or using deadly force has no duty to retreat. But castle doctine rights end when an individual is no longer on their real property.
In general, force used against an intruder must be reasonable and proportionate to the harm reasonably feared. Therefore there is a valid defense if you believe that you or another person face imminent danger and you only use as much force as is reasonably necessary to alleviate that danger and escape is not a reasonable choice.
13. Involuntary Intoxication
Many criminal statutes require “specific intent” to commit crimes. If a defendant was involuntarily intoxicated, that is generally a complete defense to almost any crime. For example, if someone slips a drug into a defendant’s drink causing them to become involuntarily intoxicated. Or if a doctor prescribes a drug without warning of the potential side effects. However, you can only claim involuntary intoxication if you did not voluntarily take any intoxicating drugs or alcohol.
14. Plea of Insanity
In most instances, you cannot be found guilty of a crime if you were legally insane when you committed it because willful intent is a required criminal element.
California courts utilize a definition of legal insanity is known as the M'Naghten Rule (pronounced and sometimes spelled as McNaughton) named after Daniel M'Naghten, a Scottish woodturner who murdered an English official in 1843 while suffering from paranoid delusions. The M'Naghten Rule requires that the accused (1) did not understand the nature of the criminal act or (2) did not understand that the act was morally wrong.
Kansas, Montana, Idaho and Utah do not allow the insanity defense. Other state jurisdictions each utilize one or more of the four following legal tests of insanity:
- Model Penal Code Test
- Durham Rule
- Irresistible Impulse Test
- M'Naghten Rule
The insanity defense test utilized by each state jurisdiction is reviewed here.
15. Double Jeopardy
The US Constitution protects citizens from being prosecuted for the same crime twice and facing multiple punishments for the same crime. A suspect cannot be tried twice in the same court for the same crimes. So if a defendant is acquitted of a crime, prosecution cannot try for the same offense, even if new evidence comes to light.
16. Statute of Limitations
State criminal statute of limitations laws forbid prosecutors from charging someone with a crime that was committed more than a specified number of years ago. The purpose of these laws is to ensure that convictions rely only upon evidence that hasn't deteriorated with time.
After the time of the statute has run, the accused is essentially free. Statutes of limitation generally require an accused person to be: (1) In the state where the crime was committed, (2) Gainfully employed, (3) Visible and not in hiding or under an assumed identity.
Each state establishes its own criminal statute of limitations, usually with different limits for different kinds of crimes. Under California penal code §799, the California criminal statute of limitations are generally as follows with some exceptions:
- No statute of limitation: Murder, other offenses punishable by death or life imprisonment, embezzlement of public funds
- 6 years: Felonies punishable by 8 or more years in prison
- 3 years: Felonies punishable by imprisonment of less than 8 years, Misdemeanor violation committed on a minor under 14
- 2 years: Misdemeanor sexual exploitation by physician or therapist
- 1 year: Other misdemeanors
Statutory periods generally do not begin until the offense is or should have been discovered. And the statutory period is typically extended for up to 3 years of the time the accused is not in the state.
17. Beyond a Reasonable Doubt
In 1970, the US Supreme Court ruled in the In Re Winship case that the US Constitution requires that the government must meet the strict "beyond reasonable doubt" legal standard when establishing guilt of criminal charges for both adults and juveniles alike.
Under US law, the more serious the consequences, the higher the standard of proof generally should be. Since criminal convictions involve potential loss of liberty in prison, the highest standard of proof applies.
The beyond reasonable doubt standard requires that the evidence be so convincing that no reasonable person would ever question the defendant’s guilt. This strict burden of proof requires that the jury (in some cases, the judge) have a moral certainty that the defendant is guilty and that the evidence offer no logical explanation or conclusion other than the defendant committed the crime.
This strict standard favors the defendant since defense has to merely establish a reasonable doubt about any of the key elements required for the crime to succeed. Good criminal lawyers often impress upon juries that thinking the defendant committed the crime is not sufficient for a conviction.
They must have moral certainty after considering all the facts that there is no doubt remaining and only one logical conclusion is left: the defendant is guilty. Criminal jury instructions note that all 12 jurors must unanimously agree on the verdict to convict.
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What are the 6 Elements of a Crime?
Common law breaks down the elements of crime that prosecutors must prove "beyond a reasonable doubt." Almost all crimes have at least three elements:
1) A Criminal Act or "Actus Reus"
The definition of Actus Reus is a culpable act or the objective elements of the criminal act. These can be either acts or omissions to act that legislatures have chosen to punish. These criminal acts are defined in criminal laws such as the California Penal Code.
2) Criminal Intent or "Mens Rea"
Also known as "culpable mind" or "Mens Rea." The mental element of intending to commit a crime or knowing that an action or lack of action would result in a crime being committed. Usually a person who acts without mental fault will not be liable under criminal law. The exceptions to this rule are known as "strict liability crimes."
3) Concurrence of both the Criminal Act and Criminal Intent
Both the criminal act and criminal intent must be present together in order to be liable under criminal law.
If a crime requires a harm or bad result (not all do), prosecutors must also prove two more elements beyond a reasonable doubt:
4) Harm to Victim or Society
5) Causation of Harm by the Criminal Act
There are some crimes where prosecutors must also prove:
6) Attendant Circumstances
Attendant circumstances are additional facts that define the crime. These external circumstances could include the crime’s methodology, victim characteristics, location or setting, among others. For example, in a statutory rape case, the victim's age is an attendant circumstance.
What is a Strict Liability Crime?
Strict liability crimes are when there is no state-of-mind element that must be proved. While strict liability is much more common in civil matters, there are some criminal acts that lawmakers have decided to punish no matter what the state of mind.
Some examples of strict liability crimes:
- Statutory rape
- Selling alcohol to a minor
- Some traffic offenses such as speeding (i.e. the broken speedometer defense)
There can be defenses to strict liability crimes, but this is a complex area of law requiring a skilled criminal defense lawyer analysis of the possible defenses given the case circumstances.
Last updated 9.6.18
This information does not constitute legal advice and is not a substitute for individual case consultation and research. No representations are made as to the accuracy of this information and appropriate legal counsel should be consulted before taking any actions. Contact us for a free consultation regarding your specific case and facts and to see if Chudnovsky Law is the best defense attorney for you.
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