Home Defenses Can a Ignorance or Mistake Defense Work?

Can a Ignorance or Mistake Defense Work?

Can a Ignorance or Mistake Defense Work?


A defendant is more likely to avoid liability in a criminal case on a mistake of the facts defense, rather than ignorance. Criminal law requires an offender to have both actus reus and mens rea in order to be charged with a criminal offense. A mistake of the facts defense claims that the defendant lacked mens rea because, although a criminal act was committed, the actor had no guilty intentions. If you need legal advice and assistance, contact defense lawyers.

If a defendant can prove to a judge or jury that he honestly believed in an erroneous, but reasonable, belief system that caused him to unintentionally commit a crime, then he may not be held liable. For example, if the defendant enters another person's home and leaves with another individuals possession, he may be charged with theft. 

However, if the defendant can prove that he honestly believed himself to be the rightful owner of that object, the courts will recognize a lack of mens rea and the defendant will be acquitted.  

A mistake of the facts defense is only accepted if the defendant's mistake is found to be honest and reasonable. If the defendant in the example took an item that clearly belonged to the owner, then his defense would not hold up. 

Even if the mistake was honest, if it cannot be found that a reasonable person in the same situation would have also mistakenly took the item, then the defense is not valid. A mistake of facts defense is often combined with another defense in criminal cases, such as self defense. 

A defendant may claim that a mistake of the facts caused him to believe that the plaintiff was attacking him. The defendant will then claim that this mistake led him to use self defense in order to protect himself.