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In a criminal case, the prosecutor is responsible for proving the defendant’s actions were unlawful. Here are the common legal defenses in criminal law.

7 Different Types of Legal Defenses In Criminal Law

In a criminal case, the prosecutor is responsible for proving that the defendant’s actions were unlawful beyond a reasonable doubt. However, there are permitted defenses in criminal law that can negate the elements of a criminal case. If the defense team deploys any solid defense strategy, the burden of proof is again shifted onto the prosecutor. An experienced criminal defense lawyer can advise you of the legal defenses that apply to your case. Here are some of the common legal defenses in criminal law. 

Procedural Violations

One common defense used in criminal cases is procedural or constitutional violations. This includes the procedures police use to arrest, investigate, or obtain evidence. In some cases, this defense can result in the dismissal of the case. For example, the police are required to follow certain procedures when making an arrest, including informing the arrested that they have the right to an attorney. If these rights are violated, the case can get dismissed. 

Any evidence obtained from the police that violates the defendant’s rights would be inadmissible in court. For example, if the police get the evidence by searching the defendant’s property without a warrant, the defense can argue that a procedural violation occurred. For another example. If the statute of limitations had expired, it would be considered a constitutional violation, and the case could be dismissed. 

Factual Innocence

It is not always as straightforward to prove innocence in a criminal case, but the defendant has the legal right to submit any evidence that refutes the prosecution’s case. This can include eyewitnesses, character witnesses, or expert testimony that proves the defendant did not commit the crime. 

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This defense can be used in two ways; either the defendant was unaware of the crime and unable to distinguish between right and wrong, or they could not control the impulse to commit the crime due to a mental illness. 

Some states require the defendant to get at least four different tests to make the insanity defense viable. Using this defense when the defendant is innocent can be risky and result in them being sent to a mental institution for treatment.  


Self-defense is a defense strategy often used in criminal cases involving battery, assault, or murder. The defense lawyer can use evidence to justify that their client only acted in a certain way to protect themselves from the perpetrator. 

In some cases, the self-defense strategy can only apply when the defendant did not use more force than necessary. The supporting evidence should validate that the defendant acted in such a way to prevent additional harm.   


An alibi means that the defendant was not present at the crime scene when the crime happened. The defendant must submit evidence proving that they were elsewhere when the crime occurred. This evidence can include documents, receipts, surveillance footage, and alibi testimonies. A criminal defense lawyer can help you determine if you have a solid alibi for your case. 

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Coercion or duress is another common defense that can be used in criminal cases when the defendant was forced to commit a crime. If someone else tricked or threatened to cause harm to the defendant or their loved ones, which resulted in the defendant getting entangled in the criminal activity, they could use the coercion defense in court. Although coercion may not apply to all criminal cases, it can be used as a potential defense.   

Mistake of Fact 

The mistake of fact defense can be used when the defendant misunderstood a fact that resulted in them committing a crime. However, the mistake should be reasonable and honest. For example, this defense is used in larceny cases when the defendant believed that the property was theirs to take.

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