Common Defenses Used in a Criminal Trial

If you are accused of a felony or misdemeanor, you may have a defense. There are various ways a skilled criminal defense attorney can help you avoid a conviction and jail time.

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A Defendant Does Not Have to Present a Defense

The prosecuting attorney must prove a person guilty beyond a reasonable doubt for a criminal conviction. Although a defendant need not present any defense, a successful defense usually depends on putting up a fight. The best defense lawyers can adapt to trial developments and overcome unforeseen evidence. Generally, a trial defense is established before the commencement of the trial in a district or circuit court. Here is what you need to know about common defenses used in a criminal trial.

The most common defenses at trial include:

  • Self-defense – Self-defense is one of the most common defenses by people charged with violent crimes, like domestic violence, assault and battery, felonious assault, and murder. The defendant using this defense will agree that they used some force, such as punching someone. However, they will argue that the force was legally justified. If the other person involved in the altercation did something threatening or assaultive first, reasonable force in self-defense is legal. The prosecutor must prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that the defendant did not act in self-defense.
  • The insanity defense – Defendants who did not have control of their actions or didn’t understand what they were doing are legally insane and not guilty. At times, people suffering from mental disorders cannot choose right from wrong. Hence the insanity defense prevents a conviction for someone who has a severe mental illness. If the jury finds that the defendant was insane at the time of the offense, they are not guilty. The defendant will then have to be hospitalized until they are not a danger to himself or others. The time spent in the hospital may exceed the maximum sentence on the original charge.
  • Incompetence – Defendants who cannot understand the legal proceedings or effectively assist their lawyers are not competent. If a defendant remains incompetent for 1/3 of the maximum possible sentence, not to exceed 15 months, they are entitled to have the case dismissed. Hospitalization or other mental health treatment after the dismissal is not required.
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  • The alibi defense – The alibi defense is when the defendant claims to be innocent because they were in some other specific place when the crime occurred. This defense is used in a criminal trial when the defendant has an eyewitness or other evidence to establish they were somewhere else when the crime occurred. With sufficient evidence, the alibi defense is powerful. In advance of trial, the prosecution is entitled to notice that alibi will be the defense and what witnesses will be testifying on that issue. The prosecution will then have to present evidence, if possible, to rebut the defense.
  • The entrapment defenseEntrapment occurs when law enforcement officers or their agents induce an otherwise law-abiding person to commit a crime they otherwise would not likely have committed. However, if the government provides an opportunity for a crime to happen, and a person takes advantage of that situation, this is not considered entrapment since the person is ready and willing to commit a crime. Entrapment is generally a challenging defense to present, and judges are very critical of these claims. It often only works if the defendant has little or no previous criminal history or no criminal history similar to the current charges. Judges in Oakland County, Wayne County, Macomb County, Livingston County, and Washtenaw County have demonstrated a real aversion to this defense. However, it is still viable if presented credibly by a highly competent, aggressive criminal defense lawyer.
  • Statute of limitations defense – The statute of limitations is the time limit imposed on the government for charging a crime. The statute of limitations applies to a probation violation (VOP). Some statutes of limitations are set by statute to a specific period, and sometimes, notions of fairness called Due Process set the statute of limitations. The delay is measured by subjective factors. Most crimes must be charged within a certain period from when the crime occurred. Some crimes, including murder, do not have a statute of limitations. But for misdemeanors, the time frame can be as little as a few. If the time set by the statute of limitations passes without a charge, a would-be defendant is barred from prosecution. Technically, the statute of limitations defense is commonly used in a pretrial motion, not in a bench or jury trial.
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If you would like a free consultation to see what defenses are available to you or a loved one charged with a misdemeanor or felony offense, please do not hesitate to call an experienced, assertive, capable criminal attorney with LEWIS & DICKSTEIN, P.L.L.C. Our defense lawyers have extensive experience successfully defending thousands of clients in courts throughout Michigan. Our in-depth knowledge and command of all defenses used in a criminal trial, not just the typical defenses, gives our clients the edge needed to win.

If you want additional information, click any of these links: Defenses 1, Defenses 2, or Defenses 3.

Call us today at (248) 263-6800 for a free consultation or complete an online Request for Assistance Form. We will contact you promptly and find a way to help you.

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