Attorney Blog

General Categories of Criminal Defense


Most of the time, when people think about needing a law firm or an attorney, their minds jump to criminal defense law. After all, that’s one of the worst case scenarios for most people. Having a lawyer when you are being charged criminally is important as more is at stake in a criminal proceeding than civil proceeding. If you are charged with a crime though, it’s good to know about the general categories of defenses so you can discuss matters with the lawyer from the law firm.


Insanity is one of the most commonly thought of defenses, although it is challenging to obtain. Different jurisdictions have different definitions for insanity, but generally, these end up revolving around an inability to understand the wrongness of the act. In some cases though, this may only extend to serving as a defense against cases in which an intent element is present.


Automatism is a lesser known defense in criminal defense law, although its sub parts are better known. It occurs when the muscles respond without your mind’s control or without your consciousness. This has been applied to sleep walking, PTSD, and epileptic seizures. However, it is not likely to succeed in situations where voluntary drug use has been employed or something has been done to institute the automatic response.


In some jurisdictions, intoxication may serve as a defense to specific intent crimes. It may extend to general intent crimes if the intoxication was unintentional or involuntary. Intentional intoxication designed to prevent the formation of specific intent will not negate the intent. For instance, if you catch your spouse in adultery, You cannot decide to get drunk so that you can claim you were unable to form the necessary intent for an attack.

Mistake of Fact

A more successful defense in criminal defense law is the mistake of fact. However, it must be demonstrated that it is a genuine mistake and that it is a mistake of fact. It is not a defense for a mistake of law. Most of the time, this comes about in conjunction with another defense. The mistake of fact is a good defense though. A common example would be that the defendant shot at a plain clothes police officer. In the shooting, he mistakenly believed that the plain clothes police officer was a violent criminal attacking him. It is a mistake of fact, not a mistake as to whether he was allowed to shoot at the officer.

Self Defense

Self defense is one of the most popular, and it is also one of the more common defenses. It applies in situations in which your actions are reasonable in light of the action taken and for protecting yourself. The force, however, must be proportional to the threat. This means that using a gun to stop someone from threatening to scratch you is not proportionate. When you meet with a lawyer at a law firm, you will need to bring the details so that the criminal defense lawyercan see whether self defense actually applies.


When someone forces you to do something against your will, this constitutes duress. The threat, however, must be significant. Reputational black mail might not be enough, but, if your family is being threatened, that would be. However, this defense is limited. It cannot be used to justify murder or attempted murder. Theft, assault, and other similar crimes may be defended against, provided the duress is specific enough and dire enough that a reasonable person would have done the same. The evaluation is based in most jurisdictions on the age, sex, mental capacity, and physical nature among other things.