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Legal Defenses In Criminal Law In Philadelphia Pennsylvania

Legal Defenses in Criminal Law: 101

One of the most important responsibilities of a criminal defense attorney is crafting a legal defense strategy for their client.

What Is A Legal Defense In Criminal Law?

When a defendant is charged with a crime and the case goes to trial, the prosecutor will attempt to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty the crime. They will do so with their own legal and rhetorical strategy. It is the defense attorney’s job to cast doubt on the prosecutor’s allegations, and to counter the prosecutor’s legal strategy with their own set of legal defenses.

In this context, a “legal defense” is one rhetorical and legal approach to refuting the claims of the prosecutor and posing a different narrative on behalf of the defendant.

What Are The Most Common Legal Defenses For Criminal Charges In Philadelphia, PA?

If you are facing criminal charges in Philadelphia, PA, there are many potential legal defenses that your defense attorney may utilize. The ones that get used in your case depend on the details of the case as well as the knowledge, discretion, strategy, creativity, and skill of your defense attorney.

There are several defenses that are used most commonly in criminal cases, one or more of which tend to be used in the vast majority of criminal defense cases in Philadelphia, PA and elsewhere in the U.S.

  1. Abandonment and Withdrawal: Argues that the defendant intended to commit the crime but decided not to and voluntarily stopped participating before the crime was committed. The defendant’s actions before they changed their mind must not have contributed to the crime, unless the defendant notified authorities about the crime as soon as possible after changing their mind.
  2. Consent: Argues that the victim consented to the allegedly criminal act, meaning there was no crime. This defense is sometimes used in assault cases involving athletes and athletic events like rugby and boxing. It is also sometimes used in sexual assault and rape cases and certain property crimes, like trespassing. In those cases, the defendant must prove that the alleged victim could give consent and actually did so. This is a very difficult defense to prove and is often rejected by the Court.
  3. Entrapment: Argues that the defendant committed the crime, but only because of the harassment or coercion of a government agent or official, without which the crime would never have occurred. The defense’s attorney must show that the idea and impetus for the crime was introduced by the government agent, and that the defendant would not have been otherwise willing or predisposed to commit the crime.
  4. Insanity: Argues that the defendant committed the crime, but that due to a mental illness, they didn’t understand what they were doing or that it was wrong, or they could not control their actions or resist the impulse to commit the criminal act. This defense is not successful in most cases. In the few cases where it is successful, the defendant almost always gets remanded to a psychiatric facility rather than released.
  5. Intoxication: Argues that the defendant committed the crime but didn’t know what they were doing or that it was wrong because they were intoxicated. This defense is usually most successful in involuntary intoxication cases (in which the defendant was drugged or otherwise tricked into becoming intoxicated) but can reduce culpability in some voluntary intoxication cases, especially if the defendant can show that they were too intoxicated to form intent.
  6. Mistake of Law or Fact: “Mistake of fact” argues that the defendant committed the crime, but only because they misunderstood some essential fact or facts about the circumstances, so they didn’t realize that they were committing a crime at all. This misunderstanding must negate one or more of the elements of the crime. For example, if a defendant is charged with stealing property from someone, they can argue that they mistakenly thought the person had given them the property. “Mistake of law” argues that the defendant committed the crime, but only because they didn’t realize it was illegal. Mistake of law can be used much more rarely than mistake of fact, in much narrower circumstances—usually when the defendant was mistakenly relying on a former law, statute, or interpretation that they didn’t realize had since been overturned or changed.
  7. Necessity: Argues that the defendant committed the crime, but only because they believed it was necessary to do so in order to prevent a more significant harm that they did not themselves cause. For example, this defense could be used if someone stole a car so they could chase down a person who was threatening to use an explosive device.
  8. Self-Defense: Argues that the defendant committed the crime but only to defend themselves or others. The defense attorney must prove that the defendant had a reasonable fear of imminent harm to themselves or others, and they must have used a proportional amount of force to the force that was used against them. For example, if a defendant shoots someone who is trying to stab them (or someone else), they may use this defense. In some cases where all of the elements of this defense cannot be proven, “imperfect self-defense” can be argued to mitigate or lessen the charges.
  9. Duress: Argues that the defendant committed the crime, but only because they were forced to do so by someone else—for example, if the defendant robbed a store because someone credibly threatened to kill them if they didn’t. The defense attorney must prove that the defendant acted out of reasonable fear of imminent physical harm, and that any reasonable person in the defendant’s shoes would have also committed the crime to avoid the threatened harm.

If you or a loved one are facing criminal charges in Philadelphia, PA, it is essential that you get a criminal defense attorney on your side as soon as possible. Philadelphia criminal defense attorney John Rooney is ready to help. Attorney Rooney has the knowledge, experience, and tenacity to help you beat your charges and get your life back. Reach out today for a free consultation on your case.

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(215) 279-8400