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You May Need an Attorney and Not Even Know It

Until Proven Guilty: How To Defend Yourself In Court

by Barry Butler

If you stand accused of a crime, you must depend on the fairness of the justice system to do its job. As a defendant, it is your (and your defense attorney's) job to convince the prosecuting attorney (the "state") of either your innocence or to show that your actions were less than criminal. While the system ostensibly places the burden of proof on the prosecution, the reality of most cases demonstrates instead a need for you to put up a good defense against the charges. To learn more about common defensive situations in criminal court, read on.

The Alibi

The existence of proof that you were not at the location of the crime can make quick work of most cases, and indeed you may never even find yourself having to go to court at all if you have a good alibi. This form of defense is far from foolproof, however. Consider the following:

  1. The person you claimed to be with during the time of the crime is related to you or is a good friend. The prosecution could "poke holes" in your alibi if there is reason to believe that your person is lying to protect you. If you can come up with additional evidence, such as a movie ticket or third party that saw you, you may have yourself a good alibi.
  2. There is a possibility that you hired, convinced, or coerced a third party into committing a crime for you, even though it appears you have an airtight alibi. The prosecution is burdened to show proof of this, and it must be more than just conjecture.
  3. Although it appeared you were at a certain location during the crime, you in fact had a opportunity to leave and return without being noticed. The prosecution will attempt to show that you had time to accomplish this.

Self Defense

In this defense, you admit to the crime but assert that you were forced to save your own life by using violence against another. You do have the right to protect yourself, so the prosecution will attempt to show that you:

  • were not really in danger and you knew it
  • used an unreasonable amount of force to protect yourself

Other factors include the sex, size, health, and other characteristics of both you and the aggressor.

Insanity Defense

This defense is actually the most misunderstood of any. There is actually no legal definition of insanity, and it should be noted that the diagnostic manual of mental disorders does not include any such term either. It is an old-fashioned term that has been used to describe a person who commits a crime but is unable to understand that what they did was wrong, or was unable to control themselves during the crime. Defenses of this nature rely heavily on the testimony of mental health experts to assert that the person could not have known, at the time of the crime, what they were doing was wrong or against the law. If a defendant is found to be mentally ill and are still convicted of the crime, they are usually remanded to a mental institution.

Speak to your criminal law attorney for more information about these and other commonly used defenses.