What are the Common Defenses to Criminal Charges?

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If you or someone you love is facing serious criminal charges, then you’ll need to develop a strong defense. When a defendant goes on trial because they are charged with a crime, the prosecutor must prove that the defendant is guilty of the alleged crime beyond a reasonable doubt.

Criminal defendants are entitled by the Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution to present a criminal defense. There are considerable criminal defenses available that allow a defendant to avoid a conviction and prove their innocence.

Criminal defense professionals like Pensacola criminal defense attorneys recommend that the defendant hire a defense attorney because they can advise the defendant on their rights.  They can also discuss the process of a criminal case, the prosecutor’s role, and the potential defenses available.

Common Criminal Defenses


To successfully convict a criminal defendant, the prosecution must prove the defendant was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Common defense strategies used by defendants can be grouped into two general categories. The first group consists of denying the defendant did anything (which includes the alibi defense), and the second acknowledges that the defendant did the act but only under extenuating circumstances, including self-defense, insanity, entrapment, or intoxication.

Alibi Defense

An alibi defense uses evidence to demonstrate that the defendant was somewhere other than the scene of the crime when it took place. So if you’ve been accused of a crime but can prove you were elsewhere, your criminal defense attorney can get your charges reduced or dropped.

Self-Defense

Self-defense is commonly used to defend those charged with crimes of violence, such as battery, assault, or murder. Defendants use self-defense to justify that they used violence due to the other person’s threatening or violent actions.

The core issues in self-defense cases often are:

  • The other party was the aggressor
  • The defendant acted reasonably and believed that self-defense was necessary
  • The defendant used a reasonable amount of force to defend themselves

Self-defense is based on the idea that people should be allowed to protect themselves. If you were threatened or hurt by an act of violence by another party and acted in self-defense, your criminal defense lawyer may be able to use self-defense to have your alleged charges eliminated.

Insanity Defense

The insanity defense is one of the most complex defenses.  The insanity defense is based on the idea that defendants shouldn’t be punished because their insanity made them incapable of controlling their behavior. The insanity defense prevents mentally ill individuals from being criminally responsible because they were unable to distinguish if they were doing something right or wrong.

The insanity defense prevents some people who can’t function normally from being criminally punished. However, the insanity defense is an extremely complex topic. That’s why criminal defense professionals encourage you to hire an insanity defense expert if you intend on using this defense.

An insanity plea puts the burden of proof back on the defense. That’s why it’s less common than we think and it’s hard to prove. One of the major reasons it can be difficult to prove is that there are various definitions of insanity and the legal system and mental health professionals are unable to agree on a single meaning of the concept in the context of criminal law.

One of the most popular definitions is the “M’Naghten rule,” which essentially defines insanity as the inability to distinguish right from wrong. Another definition, known as the irresistible impulse implies the defendant knew that an act was wrong, but their mental illness wouldn’t let them stop.

Defendants found not guilty by reason of insanity are not automatically set free. These individuals are generally confined to mental institutions. An insanity plea will heavily depend on psychiatrists or psychologists who testify after examining the defendant, the defendant’s history, and the facts of the case.

Entrapment Defense

Entrapment occurs when the government, or a law enforcement professional, induces a person to commit a crime and then attempts to punish the person for it. Entrapment cases aren’t foolproof and can be overturned if the jury believes that the defendant was predisposed to commit the crime anyway.

Intoxication Defense

Voluntary intoxication does not excuse criminal actions but some alleged criminals have had success using involuntary intoxication as a defense. Defendants who commit crimes under the influence of drugs or alcohol may argue that their mental functioning was so impaired that they cannot be held accountable for their actions.

Some states provide an exception to this general rule if a defendant, accused of committing a crime that requires “specific intent”, claims that they were too drunk or high to have formed that intent.

Specific intent generally describes a situation where the defendant intends the precise consequences of an act in addition to intending the act itself. Specific intent may be only a partial defense but it might lead to an acquittal. If you’ve been accused of a crime, contact a qualified criminal defense attorney to help you consider your best course of action and attain the best possible outcome in your case.

Presumption of Innocence


Anyone accused of a crime is presumed to be innocent until they are proven guilty. This can happen in a trial or as a result of pleading guilty. If the prosecution is unable to convince the jury that the defendant is guilty, the defendant goes free.

The presumption of innocence, coupled with the fact that the prosecutor must prove the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, makes it harder for the government to put people behind bars.

Proving Guilt


The prosecutor’s job is to convince the judge or jury hearing the case that the defendant is guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt.” This means that judges and jurors are supposed to resolve all doubts about the meaning of the evidence in favor of the defendant.

This imposes a high standard on the prosecutor, and a defense attorney’s most common defense against charges is to argue that there is reasonable doubt present. It can be just as beneficial for your defense team to argue that the prosecutor hasn’t sufficiently proved that the defendant is guilty.

Sometimes a defendant can avoid punishment even if the prosecutor shows that that the defendant committed the act. A reliable and experienced Pensacola criminal defense attorney can make all the difference in proving your guilt or innocence.

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