The Most Common Legal Defenses Against Criminal Charges

In the United States, one in twenty criminals is prosecuted for something they did not do.

Wrongful convictions can cause permanent and irreversible damage to one’s life and well-being.

There are a number of legal defenses which can be exercised by the defendants depending on the criminal case. A qualified defense attorney will be able to educate you about the different kinds of defenses and which one you should use.

Given below is a list of the most common legal defenses.


An alibi proves that the defendant was absent from the scene of the crime or was involved in another activity at the time of the crime.

The defendant should provide evidence to avoid criminal liability. This can be in the form of witnesses’ testimonies or physical evidence like bills, sign-in sheets and photos.

For example, if you were at a wedding when the crime was committed, you can have the wedding attendees testify for you and provide pictures of you at the wedding.


You might be forced to use violence in certain situations where you are provoked, find yourself in immediate danger, or where the other person uses violent action.

If you are using the self-defense plea you must prove that your actions were justified and reasonable in accordance with the actions of the offender.

For example, your defense might get dismissed if the offender wasn’t being too violent but you were using overly violent actions.

There are special situations where the defendant won’t be accused even if they cause death in the exercise of self-defense.

Situations like rape, robbery,  kidnapping, serious assault and wrongful confinement are a few examples where self-defense can be justified.

Police Misconduct

Police misconduct happens when police officers commit inappropriate actions or behaviors which violate human rights. They might also do it for personal gain and merits.

This can include discrimination, torture, forced confessions, violent beatings, unauthorized arrests and other unlawful conduct.

If the police obtain evidence using illegal means, it violates the Fourth Amendment. In such cases, the court may even agree to dismiss the evidence if requested by the defendant.

Some other cases of police misconduct are,

  • Unauthorized surveillance – When surveillance of a person or a group is carried out without legal consent
  • Unauthorized searches – When a police officer forcefully carries out a search without a warrant.
  • Perjury – This happens when a police officer gives false testimony.

Defendants have the right to seek compensation for damage and losses.


A defendant may use necessity as a defense if they needed to commit the crime for preventing something dangerous or believed to be so.

In certain emergency situations, individuals may be forced to commit an illegal act.

For example, if an individual is seriously hurt and there is no vehicle to take him to the hospital, stealing a vehicle can be considered a necessity in this situation.


The ‘abandonment defense’ is used when the defendant claims that he or she withdrew from the scene of the crime before it actually took place.

In this situation, the defendant is required to provide substantial evidence that they were not present at the crime scene.

This kind of defense is only entertained by the court if it is voluntary, that is if the defendant intentionally decides to not take part in the crime.

It can be difficult to get evidence to prove voluntary abandonment.

Your lawyer will be majorly responsible for speaking up for you in court so make sure you get a good criminal defense attorney who has experience with the prosecution and criminal defense.

Involuntary Intoxication

If someone is not aware of their actions because they were forced to consume an intoxicating drink, substance or drug, and in that intoxicated state, they end up committing a crime, they can seek a defense too.

This defense will apply only if you weren’t responsible for the consumption of the drink or substance. If you make the decision to consume something  knowing its side effects, then you cannot present this defense before the court.


The literal meaning of duress is coercion or forceful restraint. It refers to an event where the person is forced to commit unlawful acts because of threat or compulsion.

Most courts entertain the duress defense except in cases of murder.

There are usually a few requirements you must meet before you can use this defense.

  • The defendant was in a situation where he was at risk of getting killed or brutally hurt.
  • There was no chance for the defendant to flee the situation or escape safely.
  • It is believed that the perpetrator would have used force if the defendant had not carried out the act.

Mistaken Identity

There are events where you can be accused of committing a crime because you look similar to the person who actually did.

More than 60% of wrongful convictions in the United States are because of mistaken identification.

You can prove you are innocent by providing an alibi defense or getting a witness to speak for you.


The concept of entrapment is similar to duress but here a person of authority like a law enforcement officer or police forces the defendant to commit the crime.

In situations of entrapment, it must be proven that

  • The person in question is not an ordinary citizen but one belonging to a higher authority or holding a government position.
  • The defendant is forced or threatened to commit the crime without an opportunity to escape.

Double Jeopardy

The ‘double jeopardy defense’ prevents a person from being prosecuted for the same crime twice or multiple times.

There are laws that prohibit double jeopardy and law enforcement authorities are supposed to adhere to them.

However, it doesn’t mean that the person in question cannot be convicted of a similar crime that they might commit in the future. It only offers protection against prosecution for the same crime.


The lawyer you hire will play a major role in determining how well your exercise your defense.

Don’t forget to do your research and hire someone who has special training and experience in criminal cases including court experience.

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