Common Criminal Defenses

Criminal law defenses

When a defendant goes on trial for allegedly committing a crime, a prosecutor must establish that the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. However, the defendant is entitled to present a defense. There are numerous criminal defenses available that may allow a defendant to avoid punishment for their actions.

The Defendant Did not Understand the Significance of the Criminal Actions

One category of defenses available is arguing that the defendant cannot be found guilty because they did not understand what they were doing or that their actions were wrong. Insanity is a severe defense that requires the defendant to prove that they had a mental disorder that prevented them from understanding right from wrong or controlling their actions. Intoxication, whether involuntary or voluntary, can also be a defense if the defendant did not understand the consequences of their actions. Additionally, a defendant may argue mistake of law or mistake of fact, claiming they made a fundamental mistake that negates an element of the crime.

The Defendant Was Justified in Their Actions

Another category of defenses applies when the defendant committed the crime but argues that they were justified in doing so. Self-defense and defense of others are commonly recognized defenses. A defendant may argue that they used force to protect themselves or someone else from harm. The defense of duress allows the defendant to argue that they only committed the crime because they were forced to do so by someone else. Lastly, the necessity defense allows the defendant to argue that they committed the crime to prevent a more significant harm.

No Crime Actually Occurred

A smaller set of defenses can be used to argue that although it appears there was a crime, the defendant did not actually commit a criminal act. The defense of consent can be used if the defendant argues that there was no crime because there was consent. Abandonment/withdrawal can be asserted if the defendant initially intended to commit a crime but later had a change of heart and withdrew from participation. Entrapment occurs when the government induces an individual to commit a crime, and the defendant may argue that they should not be held responsible if the crime would not have occurred without the government’s inducement.


Q: Can criminal defenses guarantee an acquittal?

A: While criminal defenses can provide arguments to avoid punishment, the outcome depends on various factors, including the strength of the defense, evidence presented, and the judge or jury’s decision.

Q: Are all these defenses applicable in every jurisdiction?

A: The availability and application of these defenses may vary depending on the jurisdiction and specific laws. It is essential to consult with a legal professional for advice tailored to your specific case.


Understanding the different criminal defenses available can help defendants navigate the legal system and present their cases effectively. Whether arguing a lack of understanding, justification for actions, or asserting that no crime occurred, defendants have options to challenge the prosecution’s case. It is crucial to seek legal advice to determine the most appropriate defense strategy for each unique situation.

Instant Global News