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Common Criminal Defenses

defenses for criminal trials Audubon, NJ

In a criminal trial, the prosecutor is required to prove the defendant guilty of the charged crime beyond a reasonable doubt. However, criminal defendants are entitled to present legal defenses against their charges. Legal defenses try to establish reasonable doubt as to a defendant’s guilt, or argue that someone other than the defendant committed the charged crime, that no crime was actually committed, or that the defendant committed the crime but lacked the necessary criminal intent or had a legal justification for acting in the way he or she did. There are numerous potential criminal defenses; below are some of the most notable legal defenses to criminal charges.

Insanity or Mental Defect

One type of legal defense in a criminal case argues that the defendant cannot be found guilty for the charged offense because he or she did not understand what he or she was doing at the time of the offense or did not understand that his or her actions were wrong or illegal. The strongest form of this type of defense is known as the insanity defense. The insanity defense argues that the defendant committed the alleged acts but at that time he or she had a mental defect or disorder that prevented him or her from understanding right from wrong, from controlling or understanding his or her actions, or from preventing violent or antisocial impulses. In most jurisdictions, a successful defense of insanity will allow a defendant to avoid prison, but the defendant will usually be required to be held in a psychiatric facility for treatment for an unspecified period of time.


The defense of intoxication argues that the state cannot prove that the defendant had the required criminal intent under the charged offense because he or she did not understand his or her actions or the consequences of those actions due to intoxication from drugs or alcohol. Intoxication defenses come in two forms — involuntary intoxication and voluntary intoxication. Involuntary intoxication can be a defense to both general and specific intent crimes as the intoxication was not the defendant’s intent and prevented him or her from understanding his or her actions. Conversely, voluntary, or self-induced, intoxication is usually generally not a defense to crimes in New Jersey unless it negates an element of the offense.

Mistake of Law or Fact

A claim of mistake argues that the defendant made a fundamental mistake which precludes finding that the defendant committed one or more elements of the charged offense. A mistake of law defense argues that the defendant believed in good faith that his or her actions were lawful; since all people are presumed to have knowledge of the law, a mistake of law defense only works in limited circumstances, usually when the defendant is relying on an official opinion of law from an authorized government official. Conversely, a mistake of fact defense argues that the defendant misunderstood the circumstances of the charged incident; for example, a defendant charged with shoplifting may argue he or she mistakenly believed he or she had paid for the merchandise before walking out of the store.


The claim of self-defense is typically used in violent crimes to argue that the defendant was justified in using force that caused bodily injury or death in order for the defendant to lawfully protect him/herself, another person, or the defendant’s property.


The defense of duress claims that a defendant committed a crime because he or she was forced to do so by another person (usually under threat of bodily injury to the defendant or a family member of the defendant).


A necessity defense is a rare type of legal defense that argues that the defendant committed a crime in order to prevent a more significant harm; for example, a defendant steals a car in order to chase down someone who had kidnapped the defendant’s child.


A defense of consent argues that no legal violation of the victim’s rights against bodily harm occurred. Consent defenses are most frequently used in cases involving sexual crimes, but could also be used in assault cases (for example, if the defendant and victim agreed to fight each other).


An abandonment or withdrawal defense argues that the defendant intended to commit a crime but later withdrew from participation in the offense. This defense effectively requires the defendant to admit to committing the crime of criminal attempt.


In an entrapment defense, a defendant alleges that the government induced him or her to commit a crime that she or she would not have committed but for the government’s actions and therefore he or she should not be held criminally liable for his or her conduct.

Contact an Experienced Hamilton Criminal Defense Lawyer About Your Charges in New Jersey

Were you arrested or charged in New Jersey? The consequences of a conviction could be severe, leaving you with a permanent criminal record and possibly even sending you to jail. That is why you need to speak with a qualified criminal defense attorney as soon as possible about your case. The attorneys at the Aydelotte & Scardella Law LLC have successfully represented clients charged in East Windsor, West Windsor, Mt. Ephraim, Gloucester City, Hopewell, Robbinsville, and throughout New Jersey. Call (609) 587-1144 or fill out the online contact form to schedule a consultation with a member of our legal team. We have an office conveniently located at 109 E. Atlantic Ave Audubon, NJ 08106 as well as in Hamilton, NJ in Mercer County.

The articles on this blog are for informative purposes only and are no substitute for legal advice or an attorney-client relationship. If you are seeking legal advice, please contact our law firm directly.



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