4 Categories of Criminal Defenses: Understanding Defense Strategies

4 Categories of Criminal Defenses: Understanding Defense Strategies

What Are the Four Major Criminal Law Defenses?

The American justice system operates on the principle of "innocent until proven guilty." This places the burden of proof onto the prosecution. They must convince the jury, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that you actually committed the crime. But how do you defend yourself in court?

In this blog, we will discuss the four main defense strategies that attorneys employ. It is important to note that which strategy will work best for you can vary based on your case specifics, which is why it is so important to retain an experienced attorney.

1. Justification

This defense argues that your actions, while seemingly criminal, were lawful under specific circumstances. Here are some justifications:

  • Defense of self, others, or property. You used reasonable force to defend yourself or another from imminent harm, or you used reasonable force to protect your property from imminent unlawful use of force.
  • Necessity. You faced a situation where breaking the law was the only way to avoid greater harm. For instance, let’s say Maya gets stranded on a desolate mountain road with her young daughter. Their car heater malfunctions, and the temperature inside plummets. Knowing they'll likely freeze to death if they stay, Maya breaks into a nearby unoccupied ski lodge. She uses the fireplace to warm themselves and calls for help on the lodge's phone. While breaking into the lodge is a crime, Maya's attorney could argue necessity. She faced an imminent threat (freezing to death) and took the only reasonable action (breaking into the lodge) to avoid greater harm.
  • Duress. Similar to necessity, the principle of duress aims to prove that a crime was only committed because of external pressures. For instance, if you committed a crime under the threat of violence, that would mean acting in duress.

2. Excuse

With the excuse defense, you are arguing that even though you committed the act, you were not mentally culpable – you lacked the necessary mental state for the crime. Here are some examples:

  • Mental incapacity. You were suffering from a severe mental illness that rendered you unable to understand the wrongfulness of your actions.
  • Intoxication. While intoxication doesn't always excuse a crime, in some cases, extreme intoxication can negate the specific intent required for certain offenses (e.g., assault with intent to murder).
  • Entrapment. Entrapment is a legal defense used when someone is accused of a crime they only committed because a law enforcement officer pressured or tricked them into doing it. In this situation, the defense argues that the person wasn't predisposed to committing the crime and that the officer created the criminal opportunity.

3. Innocence (or Alibi) Defense

This straightforward defense claims you were simply not at the scene of the crime when it happened. A strong alibi with verifiable details can cast serious doubt on the prosecution's case.

  • Witness testimony placing you elsewhere at the time of the crime.
  • Documentation like receipts, plane tickets, or security footage proving you couldn't have been at the crime scene.

4. Constitution Violation (or Procedural) Defense

This defense alleges that law enforcement violated your constitutional rights during the investigation or arrest, rendering any evidence obtained inadmissible in court. Some examples of procedural errors that can be used in your defense include:

  • Illegal search and seizure. Police conducted a search without a warrant or probable cause, and the evidence they found should be excluded.
  • Miranda violation. Your confession was obtained after you invoked your right to remain silent or have an attorney present.
  • Witness intimidation. If a defendant can show the court that a witness was threatened or pressured into changing their testimony, the defense can argue that the witness's testimony is unreliable.
  • Forced confession. A forced confession is a confession obtained through coercion or threats by law enforcement. In court, it's a defense strategy because the defense argues that the confession is unreliable.

If you believe that the court’s decision to convict was incorrect, you can work with your attorney to appeal using a procedural defense as well. For instance, violations of your constitutional rights or right to quality representation,

Call (866) 580-3089 to Schedule a Consultation Today

At Balbo & Gregg, Attorneys at Law, PC we understand the complexities of criminal defense and the importance of a tailored strategy that addresses the unique aspects of each case. Our experienced attorneys are dedicated to upholding your rights and providing a vigorous defense. If you or a loved one is facing criminal charges, do not hesitate to contact us for a consultation.