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Matthew A. Radefeld and Daniel A. Juengel

3 common reasons people may use an affirmative defense at trial

On Behalf of | Jun 10, 2024 | Criminal Law |

Many people accused of a crime may plead guilty because they fear going to trial. Even those who actively claim they did not break the law sometimes enter guilty pleas. Other times, those accused of violating the law want to defend against those allegations both to protect their freedom and to exonerate themselves.

Those accused of violent crimes, in particular, face serious penalties including incarceration and a criminal record that could forever alter their lives. Especially when the prosecutor seems to have strong evidence of illegal activity, defendants may need to consider all of the potential defense strategies available.

An affirmative defense can be an option in some cases. Instead of proving that someone did not break the law, the goal is to instead show that extenuating circumstances caused the situation. Affirmative defenses seek to undermine the idea that someone acted with criminal intent. The following are three of the more common affirmative defense strategies used during trials.

Self-defense claims

Perhaps the best-known affirmative defense involves claiming that someone acted in self-defense. If an individual accused of a violent crime can show that they acted not with the intent to harm others but instead with the intention of protecting themselves, their property or a third party, that could be a successful defense strategy.

Claims about a lack of capacity

Certain scenarios may affect someone’s ability to understand the impact of their decisions. Some people respond to allegations of criminal offenses by asserting that they lacked capacity. In some cases, severe cognitive or developmental issues or unusual mental health disorders could mean that someone does not have the ability to understand their actions. Other times, people may claim that they experienced a temporary moment of insanity because of intense emotions. The allegations against an individual, their prior criminal record and the details of the situation determine whether claims related to capacity could help them avoid a conviction.

Claims of acting under duress

There are scenarios in which someone might commit a crime due to the pressure exerted by someone else. For example, perhaps there was a coworker attempting to blackmail someone, or maybe there were threats made against an individual’s family or their own physical safety. If there is evidence of another party attempting to influence an individual’s activity and force them into criminal behavior, they could theoretically defend against criminal charges by asserting that they acted while in a state of duress.

There are a host of other potential affirmative defense strategies that can work in some scenarios, including when people face violent criminal charges. Reviewing the charges against an individual with a skilled legal team can help that person evaluate their criminal defense options. Affirmative defenses can sometimes work in cases where the state seems to have strong evidence against a defendant.