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Federal Crimes Defenses

Defending yourself against criminal charges in federal court is very different from the process of facing state or local prosecutors. The federal government typically takes on major cases and has limitless resources to prosecute them.

Every aspect of a federal case, from arraignment to sentencing, is unique. It should come as no surprise then that developing a successful defense to these federal offenses is also different. Given the complexities of federal law, it is crucial to pursue a defense tailored to the federal system. Attorney Doug Murphy has extensive experience defending the accused in federal court, and he can advise you on how best to pursue your defensive strategy.

There are several types of potential defenses to a federal charge. While each category is reviewed below, it is important to remember that not all defenses will apply to every case. Your attorney will guide you on the appropriate defense for your circumstances. Every case is unique, and as such, the defense to be used in your case will vary depending upon the facts and after a thorough investigation.

Notice and Pretrial Defenses

Certain defenses are only available in federal trials if the defendant meets certain requirements early on in the case. These requirements could be as simple as providing the government with notice that the defendant intends to rely on a certain defense. These notice requirements could give the government the opportunity to object to the use of the defense, however.

In other cases, a defendant may only use a defense at trial if they have met other necessary pretrial steps. This often includes some form of pretrial hearing on whether or not the defense is appropriate. This is often required early on in the process, as the outcome of the hearing could shape the direction the case takes.

Typically, the failure to comply with the requirements surrounding these defenses will carry steep consequences. Often, this failure could prevent a defendant from using or even making mention of the specific defense at trial.

Examples of notice and pretrial defenses include:

Affirmative Defenses

In most criminal trials, the burden to prove guilt lies with the federal government. In these cases, the defendant needs only to highlight the government's failure to prove their case. However, there are some specific defenses that require the defendant to make an affirmative showing. If the defendant fails to meet their burden of proof on establishing the affirmative defense, they will not be able to use the defense to avoid a conviction.

Like with most federal criminal offenses, affirmative defenses typically have a series of elements that the defendant must prove. If the defense fails to establish even one of the necessary elements of an affirmative defense, they will not succeed in using it at trial.

One advantage affirmative defenses typically have is a lower burden of proof compared to what the state is required to show. Federal prosecutors must convince a jury beyond a reasonable doubt that you are guilty of a crime. For affirmative defenses, you need only to prove each element by the preponderance of the evidence. This is a substantially lower burden.

Some common affirmative defenses include:

Specific Intent Defenses

Many actions are only outlawed by federal law if they occur in conjunction with criminal intent. While intent is not an element of every offense, it is common in a wide array of federal charges.

When the federal government must establish that a specific form of criminal intent was present before or during the commission of a crime, it can present a substantial opportunity for the defendant. If the defendant can provide reasonable doubt that they acted with the necessary criminal intent, it is enough to earn an acquittal regardless of the other evidence against them.

Intent defenses have the potential to succeed given that they are inherently difficult to prove. While there could be ample physical evidence that you committed a specific act, no one can know with certainty what your intent was at the time.

These defenses are not infallible. While the state cannot prove your intent, they can offer evidence the jury could use to estimate what your intentions were. In many cases, the battle over intent is a central part of a federal criminal trial.

Common examples of specific intent defenses include:

  • Automatism
  • Negating Mens Rea
  • Good Faith
  • Advice of Counsel
  • Applying Mens Rea to all Elements of the Offense

Special Federal Defenses

Some effective defenses in federal criminal trials defy categorization. While they may not share similar elements with other defenses, each of these could result in your acquittal if the facts merit it.

One special defense involves a claim of extraterritorial jurisdiction. This defense alleges that the offense in question occurred outside of the boundaries of the United States and that the government lacks jurisdiction to prosecute the offense. Not all crimes that happen outside of the United States are exempt from its laws, however, making this defense rare in practice.

Another example of a special defense involves reliance on the Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution. Typically, the federal government must leave local issues to state or local entities to prosecute. However, there are some exceptions that allow the federal government to pursue charges in primarily local cases.

Finally, derivative citizenship is another example. Many federal offenses—specifically immigration offenses—are only applicable to a person or citizen not natural to the United States. The burden is on the federal government to prove that the defendant is an alien, making derivative citizenship a strong defense in some immigration cases.

Discuss Your Options with an Experienced Houston Federal Defense Attorney

There are countless potential defenses that could be available to you depending on the charges you face and the facts of your case. Each of these defenses has technical requirements that must be met to make use of them. To discuss your defense options with an attorney experienced in defending clients in federal court, schedule a free consultation with the Board Certified criminal defense attorney at Doug Murphy Law Firm, P.C. today by calling 713-229-8333 or contacting us online.

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