The defenses raised in a criminal case generally fall into two categories: you did not commit the crime, or you committed the crime, but should not be held responsible.
Defenses Based on a Claim of Innocence
The most powerful defense when you did not commit the crime is the establishment of a solid alibi. With an alibi, you have either eyewitness testimony or documentary evidence, such as hotel, restaurant or other receipts, that places you somewhere else at the time of the commission of the crime.
Even if you don’t have direct documentary or testimonial evidence absolving you, you can offer circumstantial evidence in your defense. Circumstantial evidence asks a jury to make a reasonable inference from all the evidence that you could not have committed the crime.
The courts also accept testimony regarding your character, but this type of evidence is highly subjective.
Defenses Based on an Acknowledgement that You Committed the Act
Even though you admit that you committed the act prohibited by law, you may be entitled to acquittal based on certain defenses:
- Justification—This defense admits the act, but contends that you were legally justified in taking the action. Typical arguments include self-defense, and the defense of others, the need to defend your home or property from intruders. With self-defense claims, the courts will typically question whether you responded to the threat with reasonable force.
- Excuse—These defenses customarily reflect a lack of legal capacity—i.e., that you did not understand that what you were doing was illegal. The types of defenses that fall under this category include insanity, age, mental incompetence, involuntary intoxication, duress or any other instance of diminished capacity.
You can also ask the court to acquit you if law enforcement officers or prosecutors have violated your rights during the criminal process. Examples include entrapment, double jeopardy, prosecutor misconduct, jury tampering, selective prosecution (racial profiling), and violation of any of your constitutional protections.