Last Updated 28 Mar 2017

Criminal Case Defense

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When a person gets arrested for a crime, that person will remain a suspect until proven guilty otherwise in court. This person will then have the chance to avail himself with the best legal representation available. “A defense consists of evidence and arguments offered by a defendant and his or her attorney(s) to show why that person should not be held liable for a criminal charge” (Schmalleger, 2010). Generally speaking, there are two types of defense: factual and legal. When talking about factual defense, this simply means that the defendant claims that there was no crime committed.

An example of a factual defense is when the defendant claims that he or she was not in the crime scene, usually called an alibi or proof beyond reasonable doubt does not exist. There are two possible outcomes on a factual defense: acquittal or lesser punishment. A legal defense in contrast is when a defendant may confess to committing the crime but disagrees with his or her accountability because of a certain variable supporting the act such as mental incapacity or insanity.

In a legal defense, factual guilt is immaterial for assertion and the defendant may defend his or her act with justifications, excuses or prove that constitutional rights or other laws have been violated by the government concerning evidence, relevant materials or witnesses about his or her case. A legal defense may have multiple outcomes such as acquittal, reduction in punishment, exclusion of evidence, exclusion of witnesses and more. There are two forms of legal defenses.

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The two forms of legal defenses are justifications, in which the defendant admits to committing the act in question but claims is was necessary in order to avoid some greater evil, and excuses, in which the defendant claims that some personal condition or circumstance at the time of the act was such that he or she should not be held accountable under the criminal law” (Schmalleger, 2010). To better understand the two forms, an example of a justification is when a son is trapped in the neighbors tree house and the father has to trespass and possible destroy his neighbors property to let his son free.

The fathers reason for trespassing someone else’s home and also damaging property is justifiable because his intention was to save his sons life. An example of an excuse is killing someone while sleep walking. The excused actor admits to doing harm but claims an absence of personal culpability. “Justifications and excuses are affirmative defenses, that is, they must be raised or asserted by the defendant independently of any claims made by the prosecutor. This is a variance from the general rule that places the burden of production and persuasion on the government.

For affirmative defenses, defendants bear the burden of production, that is, they must assert the defense at the time required by law. Failure to raise an affirmative defense in a timely manner acts as a waiver of the defense. States vary about the burden of persuasion placed on the defendant. Some require the defendant to prove the defense; others shift the burden to the prosecution to disprove defense” (Schmalleger, 2010). Many variables are included when the conduct in which the violated law may be justifiable. Six different defenses fall under justifications.

Necessity for one is a justifiable defense to a criminal charge in which the defendant claims that it was necessary to commit some unlawful act in order to prevent greater evil or harm. If a man deemed that it was necessary to destroy windows in a burning house to vent the smoke and save victims in it from smoke inhalation and help them escape, he justifies his act on destruction of property to save lives and avoid harm. Another is self-defense simply means to defend one’s self from harm or threatening situations. To protect one’s self is a right and a natural response but has limitations.

If an attacker for example punches a victim, the victim has the right to defend himself or stop the situation to progress by attacking the attacker as well until the threat is ended. In this example, if the threat was ended by the victim knocking the attacker unconscious and the victim is aware and still kept hitting the attacker until he dies is no longer self defense. If the threat no longer exists the victim should go away and call the authorities and let them handle the situation from there. In self defense, reasonable force must be presented when defending a case.

When another person is being victimized and a person defends the victim from harm this defense is called defense of others or sometimes called defense of a third person. Defense of others always requires that the defender be free from fault and that he or she act to aid an innocent person who is in the process of being victimized. Defense of home and property also falls under justifications. Four situations which are protection of personal property, defense of home or habitation, defense of another’s property and use of mechanical device to protect property are justifiable means when using protection of property as a defense.

In most jurisdictions, the owner of property can justifiably use reasonable non deadly force to prevent others from unlawfully taking or damaging that property” (Schmalleger, 2010). An example of unreasonable deadly force to protect property is shooting an unarmed trespasser but shooting while being robbed by an armed robber who has intent to kill is reasonable use of deadly force. The fifth defense that can be used as a justification is resisting unlawful arrest. This is a very sensitive case and requires factual and accurate evidence when resisting unlawful arrest from peace officers.

Last defense to be covered under justifications is consent. “Consent is a justification offered as a defense to a criminal charge, that claims that the person suffering as injury either agreed to sustain the injury or accepted the possibility of injury before the activity was undertaken” (Schmalleger, 2010). In the remaining of this paper, the second major category of defenses which is “excuses” will be discussed followed by the analysis between the legal and medical perspectives on mental illness and insanity. In most cases, excuses are personal in nature.

Defendants would claim that their actions were based on some disability or some abnormal condition such as intoxication, insanity or immaturity. There are several excuses recognized by law which includes: duress, intoxication, mistake, age, entrapment, insanity, diminished capacity and various syndromes to a limited degree. However, where a defendant suffers from a know disability, that disability alone is not sufficient to excuse him or her of criminal responsibility. Insanity and mental illness are probably two of the biggest issues and also hard to prove in court as an excuse.

Many defendants throughout the years won a case using insanity and mental illness as an excuse. Some scientists and medical experts have been studying the human mind, and although the studies are far from complete and still difficult to fully understand, there are distinctions and differences concerning insanity and mental illness.

On a medical perspective differentiating the two; “symptoms cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational or other important areas of functioning ight be a mental illness and when symptoms cause distress even beyond scope of problems mental illness comes with it might be considered insanity in which the person is no longer responsible for his or her actions” (Helium inc. , 2009). Insanity is a social and legal term rather that a medical one. Psychiatrists speak instead of mental disorders rather that use the term insanity which makes is difficult to fit into legal categories, either way, the legal concept of insanity has its basis in some disease of the mind.

The lack of mens rea or showing that mens rea was present but accompanied by a mental disease of defect affects criminal liability in a case. In conclusion, a criminal defense consists of evidences and arguments offered in court by a defendant through an attorney to show why the defendant should not be held liable for crimes charged against him or her. There are many aspects in a criminal case defense a defendant needs to adhere to in order to prove innocence. Criminal defenses have two types and under legal defense, defenses may be built upon three bases which are alibis, justifications and excuses.

Under excuses, insanity and mental illness was covered in a medical and legal perspective. In some jurisdictions due to the difficulties with assessing insanity from a legal perspective, insanity has been eliminated as an excuse in court in regards with a criminal charge. However defendants in all jurisdictions may still claim presence of mental disease at the time of the act which eliminates the mental culpability or mens rea needed for the criminal activity.

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