In most cases, you can't just claim that "it was a mistake" and get away with a criminal act. However, there are two ways in which you can use mistake as a criminal defense; here are they:
Mistake of Fact
A mistake of fact occurs when you misunderstand something, and the misunderstood fact wipes out one of the elements of the crime you have been accused of committing. Consider the example of theft, which is proven by these elements:
- You intentionally took a property without having the permission to do so
- The property did not belong to you
- You moved the property from where it was or where the owner intended it to be
- You did not intend to return the property
An honest mistake that negates one of these elements may be viewed as a mistake of fact may be your defense to the theft charges. For example, if you took a smartphone that was not yours but you believed that it was yours because you own a similar model.
Note that the mistake must be honest and reasonable for it to be of any help to you during your defense. For example, if you have been charged with stealing a 10-inch tablet, there is no way you can get away with claiming that you believed the 10inch tablet was your 5inch phone, such a claim is totally unreasonable.
Mistake of Law
A mistake of law occurs when you committed an act that you did not know was illegal because you were ignorant of or misunderstood an existing law. As you can imagine, it is up to you to understand the laws of every jurisdiction you are in so claiming that you were ignorant of a law usually doesn't help in most situations, but there are a few situations in which it helps. Here are some of those situations:
- If the law in question has not been published
- If the law has been overruled, overturned or deemed unconstitutional
- If the law was improperly interpreted by a judicial officer
A fitting example is when you have been charged with DUI (driving under the influence) but you were arrested while relaxing in your car in your driveway, and there is no written law that says you can't be in your car while intoxicated on your property.
Do you feel any of the above defenses can work for your situation? Consult a criminal defense lawyer to assess your case and help you with the best defense. To learn more, contact a law firm like McFarland & Masters LLC