Most people are quick to assume that someone facing criminal charges is automatically guilty and committed the illegal act knowingly and intentionally. While these assumptions can be correct in many cases, they do not always reflect the truth.
It is possible for you to commit a crime unknowingly and/or unintentionally. If this applies in your situation, it is important to establish your defense.
Frequently, crimes occur when people become impaired from drinking alcohol. If you chose to get drunk, an intoxication defense will not help you in court.
However, if you were not responsible for your intoxication, you may be able to use this defense. For example, college parties are notorious for students spiking other students' drinks with alcohol or other drugs.
What if someone forced you to commit a crime? The term for this is duress and entails threatening physical harm or death to you or someone else. The amount of pressure you faced to heed the threat must have been irresistible for it to count as duress.
For non-felony crimes, experiencing force or threat of force is enough. The catch, however, in either case, is that you cannot have put yourself in a situation with a high likelihood of a threat or compulsion happening.
Sometimes law enforcement officials use extreme measures to catch offenders. They may resort to entrapment, which involves coercing a person to engage in an illegal action he or she would not normally do.
An entrapment defense is complex due to having to meet several requirements, however. For example, offering the opportunity of crime or using deceit does not constitute entrapment, but harassment and threats do.
Mistake of fact and mistake of law
These last two are more difficult to prove. Mistake of fact means that you had an incorrect belief or interpretation of the circumstances, such as thinking an old motorcycle by some trash bins was abandoned property. Mistake of law does not refer to being ignorant of the law but receiving misinformation about the interpretation of the law by a public official or administrative agency.