15 Top Legal Defenses to Criminal Charges: Tips for New Lawyers

There are many ways to fight criminal charges and win. Here are some of the most successful legal defenses we use at Chudnovsky Law when defending our clients. The defenses are presented from the perspective of a crime charged under California law, but the same defenses apply in most states.


1) Mistaken Identity

Incorrect witness identification is a major source for incorrect accusations. This can happen if a person’s description is similar to a criminal perpetrator or if a witness assumes someone committed a crime due to circumstances or they are trying to cover for a crime they committed.

2) Accident

Most California offenses in California’s Penal Code include deliberate offenses in which the violator intentionally carried out the crime. If the act can be shown to be accidental, there is a substantial defense against the charge.

3) Duress or Immediate Danger

In the event that somebody carries out a crime simply because they believed they were in immediate risk of harm, their actions might not be considered a crime since they were made under duress.

4) Defendant Has An Alibi

A defendant cannot be guilty of many offenses if they were elsewhere when the crime occurred and therefore couldn't have committed the alleged crime.

5) Entrapment

Entrapment happens when a normally law-abiding citizen commits an offense because of intimidation, coercion, or law enforcement going too far to persuade someone to violate the law. This is common with undercover police operations. Entrapment is most often raised as a defense for prostitution, child pornography and drug offenses.

6) Police Misconduct

Unfortunately some law enforcement officials commit misconduct during their investigations. Police officers may wish to cover up a mistake they made during their initial investigation or they may just be convinced a suspect is guilty and engage in misconduct in order to build a stronger case.

Police misconduct can take many forms, but some of the most common are:

  • Lying or embellishing facts in court room testimony or in their reports
  • Improperly handling, planting or doctoring evidence
  • Using unnecessary force like tasers or pepper spray on cooperative subjects
  • Coercing witnesses and suspects

If your criminal defense attorney can identify and prove police misconduct, then that may provide leverage for dismissing your case and potentially pursuing a civil rights claim seeking damages.

7) Compelled or False Confessions

In many cases, police have been known to coerce false admissions from innocent suspects using different mental strategies and even physical threats, starvation, and sleep deprivation. Juveniles are particularly vulnerable to coercion. If defense can show evidence of coercion, then a case can be made to have the admission tossed out.

8) Probable Cause

In 1968, the US Supreme Court ruled in the seminal Terry vs. Ohio case that it is reasonable for an officer to stop an individual absent probable cause to arrest, as long as he can point to "specific articulable facts" that justify “probable cause” for the stop, search and arrest of that person. If there is not probable cause, defense can file a motion to suppress any improperly obtained evidence.


9) Falsely Accused

It is common that individuals are falsely accused of violations they didn’t commit. For example, child abuse, sex crime and domestic violence accusations can be made without any physical evidence. Defense can work to obtain a retraction of the accusation or show evidence that the accusations were false or impune the credibility of the accuser.

10) Mistake of Fact

If an alleged crime was made under a reasonable and honest mistake of fact, then the person is not guilty of most criminal offenses. For example, accidentally taking someone’s property believing it was yours.

11) Necessity

In California the legal defense of “necessity” excuses criminal conduct when it is done only to avoid a greater harm. An accused can be acquitted of a charge if they believe that they or another person is in danger or about to be harmed and the only reasonable alternative is to do the criminal act. The necessity to commit the crime must be provable with evidence.

12) Self Defense or Defense of Others

California recognizes the “castle doctrine” which applies to one’s home, place of business, or other real property. An individual injuring another or using deadly force has no duty to retreat. But castle doctine rights end when an individual is no longer on their real property.

In general, force used against an intruder must be reasonable and proportionate to the harm reasonably feared. Therefore there is a valid defense if you believe that you or another person face imminent danger and you only use as much force as is reasonably necessary to alleviate that danger and escape is not a reasonable choice.

13) Involuntary Intoxication

Many criminal statutes require “specific intent” to commit crimes. If a defendant was involuntarily intoxicated, that is generally a complete defense to almost any crime. For example, if someone slips a drug into a defendant’s drink causing them to become involuntarily intoxicated. Or if a doctor prescribes a drug without warning of the potential side effects.

14) Plea of Insanity

In California you cannot be found guilty of a crime if you were legally insane when you committed it. The definition of legal insanity is known as the “McNaghten” rule and requires that the accused:

  • did not understand the nature of the criminal act or
  • did not understand that the act was morally wrong.

15) Double Jeopardy

The US Constitution protects citizens from being prosecuted for the same crime twice and facing multiple punishments for the same crime. So if a defendant is acquitted of a crime, prosecution cannot try for the same offense, even if new evidence comes to light.


➤ Visit for two additional defenses:

16) Statute of Limitations

17) Beyond a Reasonable Doubt


About the Author

Tsion Chudnovsky is the founder of Chudnovsky Law, a California based law firm practicing in the areas of immigration, dui defence, criminal defense and injury law. Her firm offers a rare team of experienced immigration and dui lawyers with criminal attorneys that specialize in serving international clients in English, Spanish & French from offices in Los Angeles, Santa Monica & Newport Beach Orange County.

Tsion immigrated to the US and obtained her Juris Doctor degree from Loyola Law School. She is fluent in French, Italian, Spanish and Amharic and her passions include art and culture, children and women's issues, economic empowerment and human rights. You can connect with Tsion on LinkedIn, Google+ and Facebook.


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