In the event that one should ever find oneself in front of a judge, facing criminal charges, there are a number of means for which your lawyer may utilize on your behalf. These varying lines of defense can have different consequences. For instance, some may only mitigate your sentencing upon conviction, while others may exculpate you altogether. This of course is a very complicated and detailed discussion within legal discourse; however, for my purpose here, I wish to provide a brief overview of the available means for which one can employ (or one’s attorney) in order to defend oneself.
This is just a brief overview and not to be taken or read as ‘legal advice.’ Any and all advice in your personal legal matters should be solely done with a licensed, professionally trained attorney with adequate knowledge of the law.
One of the most publicized lines of defense that an attorney may employ is that of insanity. How this defense is used or defined varies by states. Typically though, an insanity defense will depend on the results of particular tests. As stated before, different states define insanity on the results of different tests. Some states use what’s known as the “M’Naghten rule.” This simply tries to determine whether or not the perpetrator is able to distinguish between right and wrong actions. If a defendant is unable to distinguish between acceptable, legal behavior and criminal, and the cause can be attributed to mental defectiveness, then he is not said to be culpable for his behavior. Another means of defining insanity is known as the “irresistible impulse” test. According to these guidelines, the perpetrator acknowledges that he knew what he was doing, he had the available knowledge to know what he was doing was wrong; however, the status of his mental competence was compromised by circumstance that prevented him from controlling his actions.
In the District of Columbia the “Durham test” is used to determine whether or not an accused defendant can be held criminally responsible. In this defense expert testimony is used (and verified) to decide whether or not the criminal behavior was the result of a mental disorder or defect. If one’s unlawful behavior was dictated not on his reasonable ability to make decisions, but out of some neurological, personality, or other psychological predisposition, then he cannot be said to be responsible for his actions.
This defense only works for specific crimes which depend on what’s known as ‘specific intent.’ Laws which require specific intent (like residential burglary) depend not only on an act, but a willing determination to commit the crime. Intoxication does not exculpate the defendant, but certainly may mitigate certain crimes and their corresponding sentences. If someone is intoxicated, it is difficult to prove they provided the specific intent necessary to commit certain crimes (and likewise negates the possibility of their being punished accordingly). It should also be known that intoxication will only prove successful on certain grounds, and should not be considered as a “get out of jail free card.”
Often times this move will be highly controversial and subject to much debate.
Acting under coercion simply means that one has committed a crime under duress. Duress can be defined in a number of ways, but typically (for legal purposes) the definition involves unlawful action on behalf of someone who otherwise would not have done so, who did not commit the act under his own volition, and may be said to have had his actions determined by someone else. In many ways this is common sense. For instance unwilling participants in a bank robbery (like the teller) who hand over the money to the robber at gunpoint are not said to be guilty of larceny – even though they physically removed the money from the bank and handed it over to someone else.
Sometimes we are faced with situations that require certain actions, and there may be no other choice but to commit an unlawful act. The textbook example of this is the woman who is threatened with sexual assault or rape and breaks down a neighbor’s door in order to find shelter/safety. Typically, this would be a charge of burglary. However, because she did so because the circumstances dictated her need for safety she would not be charged with a crime, and in fact doing so would be quite unreasonable.
The defense of entrapment is one of the more difficult ones of successfully employing. The entrapment defense prevents the government from manufacturing crimes. This becomes messy especially when undercover investigations are involved. For instance, if an undercover agent purchases narcotics from an individual, the law holds that this does not constitute entrapment and this defense would not work. However, loopholes and subjective definitions hold that there are instances where undercover cops may be said to ‘coerce’ individuals to commit crimes. An example of this would be if one was faced with an undercover cop, who took it upon himself to befriend and form a relationship with an individual, who then used this to pressure the individual to commit an unlawful act. Although this would depend greatly on much other factors, this is the type of scenario in which an entrapment defense could be used successfully.
Some criminal violations can be defended against on grounds of vagueness. The United States Constitution holds that under a statute that is too vague, unclear, or impossible to comprehend by the general public, then executing this law would be arbitrary and overly broad in their definition. One of the most popular examples of vagueness exist in laws on loitering. Loitering laws that are too vague defeat their own purpose, become arbitrary, and impossible to comprehend what they are prohibiting. This defense can be used when one is facing charges of laws that a reasonable person could not determine (from the law’s content) those actions or conduct which was forbidden or acceptable.
Another widely used means of defending oneself in a criminal case is “self-defense.” This has traditionally been seen as the “ultimate” defense to charges of crimes against the person. There are general rules though that determines self-defense and how it can be applied. For instance, a person may use whatever force is reasonably necessary to prevent immediate and unlawful harm to himself. Some jurisdiction have adopted what’s known as a “retreat rule,” which says that if the possibility for escape is present, and no harm is necessary towards the potential threat, then he/she is required to attempt that before using force. When this defense is used, it must be shown that the perpetrator felt he was under the threat of immediate and immanent harm from someone else.
Obviously many more factors would be involved, and this is something your attorney would seriously consider according to relevant facts for your particular case.
Protection of Property:
This one is related to the previous defense, and states that one may use whatever force (short of deadly) to protect his property from damage, theft, vandalism, etc. However, this defense is qualified by an expectation of reasonable necessity must be employed by the perpetrator in the defense of his property. If someone kills another human being in the defense of his property, where he does not feel immediately or immanently threatened by the individual then he is not lawfully allowed to use deadly force. The law states that human life is valued more than property, and in the application of this defense in a criminal case then it follows that the desire to protect one’s property cannot exculpate an individual from using deadly force to protect his property.