There are numerous misunderstandings that individuals have about how the law operates. An often repeated but inaccurate saying is that ignorance of the law does not operate as a defense. In actuality, some individuals who are mistaken about the law might have strong legal defenses for that very reason. A skilled attorney is often able to help individuals create a strong defense to criminal charges in these scenarios.
Mistake of Fact Criminal Defenses
A mistake of fact occurs when a person believes an incorrect piece of information about a central element of a crime. A person who buys stolen property believing that the seller was a valid owner of the property, for example, has made a mistake of fact.
Mistake of fact defenses are available for general intent crimes as well as specific intent crimes. For a general intent crime, however, a person’s mistake must be reasonable, while for a specific intent crime, the mistake does not have to be reasonable.
In the case of a specific intent crime, a person cannot be found to have the intent or mental state to commit a crime if the person did not know a fact or msitakenly believed a fact. As a result, if a court has a reasonable doubt about whether a defendant had the specific intent or mental state required for a crime, a person will be found not guilty of committing that crime. Mistake of law is a defense to the crime of willfully filing a false income tax return. To convict a person of this offense, law enforcement is required to prove that a person had the specific intent to violate tax laws.
Mistake of Law Criminal Defenses
In nearly all cases, a person cannot raise a successful defense on the basis that the person did not know the law was being broken. As a result, if a crime is considered general intent, a person is often unable to successfully a raise a mistake of law defense.
If person is charged with a specific intent crime, however, there are a unique set of circumstances that apply. A person who is charged with a specific intent crime can raise a successful defense if the individual made a good faith mistake about the law. For example, theft is a specific intent crime. If a person reasonably believed that he or she owned a particular item, that person would be able to raise a successful defense of honest mistake of fact if the individual is charged with having committed theft.
Contact a Skilled Criminal Defense Lawyer
If you have been charged with a criminal offense, it is important to consult with a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney like the legal counsel at Shein and Brandenburg to obtain the assistance that you need. In many cases, there is likely a strong legal defense that can be raised in response to the charges you face. Contact our law office today through our free case evaluation.