Facing the prospect of a conviction for a federal crime can be overwhelming for anyone. After all, facing the weight of the federal government is never easy – especially when your freedom is on the line. The good news is that many potentially effective defenses are available – it all depends on the facts of your case.
Most of these defenses serve as a focus of your case. While the state maintains the burden of proving you are guilty, these defenses can help show the jury exactly how the prosecutor has failed to meet that burden.
Other defenses shift the burden to the defendant. Known as affirmative defenses, these options can negate criminal liability and lead to an acquittal. However, they require the defendant to not only establish reasonable doubt but actively prove the elements of the defense.
Affirmative defenses are often complex, which makes guidance from a dedicated federal defense lawyer vital. Below, we discuss many common affirmative defenses used at the federal level. For an in-depth discussion of these options, schedule a free consultation with attorney Doug Murphy today.
The affirmative defense of duress is available when another person's unlawful threat of serious bodily injury or death caused you to violate federal law. This defense is even available in cases requiring specific criminal intent. A successful duress defense does not negate the intent, it allows the defendant to directly avoid criminal liability despite meeting every element of a crime.
A defendant must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that they were under duress when they committed the criminal act. This typically requires evidence that the defendant had no real choice – either they commit the criminal act or suffer severe bodily injury or death.
The defense of necessity is somewhat similar to duress. It is available only when a defendant is acting in an emergency they did not create. This defense is not limitless – it only excuses criminal conduct less serious than the consequences the defendant would have faced if they had not acted. The necessity defense typically results from external forces other than acts of another person. When other people are involved, the duress defense is generally more applicable. A successful necessity defense must also be proven by the preponderance of the evidence.
Common in violent crimes, claims of self-defense are one of the most popular affirmative defenses available under federal law. This defense excuses acts of violence if they were undertaken in the face of an imminent threat of violence.
Battered Spouse's Syndrome
The defense of battered spouse's syndrome is not often recognized in federal courts. It is similar in theory to self-defense in that it involves a spouse that has suffered long-term abuse committing an act of violence out of fear or with the hope of escaping the situation. Typically, this defense must be used in conjunction with another affirmative defense like duress or self-defense to be viable.
Defense of Others
Like your right to defend yourself, you also have the right to defend others from violent attacks in many situations. This defense is only available for the charges of assault, voluntary manslaughter, or murder. Essentially, this allows a person to intervene and defend another person to the degree that a person had the right to do the same. Like with self-defense, only a reasonable amount of force is allowed. There are limits on the identity of the third person, meaning defense of others can apply even when standing up for total strangers.
Defense of Property
In addition to defending yourself or another person, there are also circumstances that allow you to avoid criminal liability for defending your property. First and foremost, this defense only applies to the property you lawfully possess. When faced with unlawful conduct from another person, a defendant can take reasonable steps including using physical force to prevent unlawful interference with their property. This can include anything from vandalism to theft.
To use this defense, the property owner must have a reasonable belief their property is in imminent danger of theft or destruction. The threat must be so pressing there is not enough time to contact the police. Finally, the use of force is only allowed if it will avoid the risk to the property. The property owner must also use a reasonable level of force that can never rise to deadly force.
The defense of entrapment is available in situations where the accused is forced or induced to commit a crime by law enforcement officers that they otherwise would not have committed. To make use of this defense, the accused must show the government did more than provide an opportunity to commit a crime. Instead, they must establish law enforcement induced through pressure or threats the commission of a crime. What's more, the defendant must establish they otherwise lacked the predisposition to commit the offense.
When using this defense, the defendant must make a case using evidence that the government created a significant risk of entrapment. If the judge believes they have met this burden, the burden shifts to the government to prove that it did not entrap the defendant.
The defense of withdrawal is narrow, only applying to the crime of conspiracy. These offenses require a criminal intent, which is lacking in a person who withdraws from the conspiracy prior to the commission of the crime. This defense requires affirmative acts showing the defendant withdrew.
Federal circuit courts are split on the existence of abandonment as a defense at the federal level. This defense is similar to withdrawal in that it involves the abandonment of a crime prior to committing an over act in furtherance of the offense.
In limited circumstances involving crimes with specific intent, the claim of voluntary intoxication could be made. If accepted, the court would negate the criminal intent due to the defendant being too intoxicated to form the necessary mental state.
Certain criminal statutes set out specific affirmative defenses that do not apply to other crimes. These vary from one statute to another and otherwise do not apply outside of the specific offense.
Speak with a Houston Federal Defense Attorney
While there are many potential affirmative defenses, identifying whether one is right for your case or not is best left to your legal counsel. Discuss your defense options during a free consultation with a Board Certified Criminal Defense Attorney with Doug Murphy Law Firm, P.C.