criminal law defenses

The court is not a commonplace to common people. Having a criminal case might be stressful and sometimes finding a good lawyer to defend you against the republic might involve some complications. 

Worry not! Here you will learn the basic criminal defenses which you may raise in criminal cases depending on the circumstances of your case.

Hey! Before that, it is worth noting that ignorance of the law is not an excuseThat simply means once you’re facing a criminal charge it is not a defense to tell the court that you didn’t know that what you have done is a criminal offense punishable by law.

Ok, now! Let’s see the defenses.


Defenses are generally into two forms, there are partial defenses and full defenses

Partial defenses are defenses that do not exonerate you from liability but it may help by reducing punishment or by being convicted with lesser offense example it may convert murder into manslaughter.  

Full defenses are the opposite of partial defenses; they are absolutely exonerating you from criminal liability. They set you free. For more insights see the following defenses.
how to apply criminal law defense on your criminal case

1. Bonafide Claim of Right

This is the full defense. It applies only to offenses relating to properties example theft, malicious damage to property etc. it simply entails that you dispose of the property of another person in utmost good faith, honestly and without fraud, in respect, of that property.


You were employed as a house servant by another person. Once you are accused of theft You may defend yourself by admitting that you took clothes from that person room by opening the window and “pole fishing” because  that person had dismissed you from your employment owing you three months wages and that person had failed to pay the wages due to you despite repeated requests, you decided to take his clothes.

 To successfully use this defense, you must prove to the court that

  • The claims of right were bonafide
  • The claim was with the honest belief that you are entitled in law to do what you did.

2. Mistake of Fact

This defense may be full or partial depending on the circumstance of your case. It applies to all mistakes of facts but not law. 

For example, if you were caught hunting in a restricted area where hunting is illegal and you say that you were not aware that you crossed the boundary from the non – restricted area here you’re pleading mistake of facts.  Therefore you may be excused.

To successfully use this defense you must prove to the court that the mistake was honest, reasonable and mistaken belief. 

3. Insanity

This defense has a lot of complications because it is an assumption of the law that every person is sane (sound mind) and possesses a sufficient degree of reason to be responsible for his crime until proved otherwise to the approval of the court.

To succeed in this defense you must clearly prove that at the time you committed a crime you suffered a disease of the mind which made you incapable of understanding what you were doing as this requires the proof from a professional doctor.  

This defense operates only as a partial defense. Because once successfully raised it doesn’t lead to the release of the accused but instead, the accused is detained as a criminal lunatic.

4. Intoxication

Intoxication simply means influenced by drugs or alcohol. This defense might not serve you if you are a habitual drinker or drug user. Because to succeed with this defense you must prove to the court that
  • At the time you commit a crime you didn’t know what you did due to the intoxication.
  • Further you must prove that your state of intoxication was caused by the carelessness or the bad motive of another person.

 This defense is partial.


5. Compulsion/Coercion

Compulsion is the act of forcing someone to do what he is not willing to do by using force on him or threatening to use force on him. Example when robberies enter your home and force you to kill your spouse, To succeed with this defense you must prove that

  • The threat was instant, immediately and continued throughout the time of the commission of a crime. 
  • Threats of future injury will not excuse any offense.
  • The threats were directed to you.

A married woman has a defense of compulsion by her husband if the offense charged with is any offense other than murder or treason. Committed in the presence of her husband and is committed under his coercion.


6. Self-Defense/Defense of a Person

This might be the defense you may like most. This defense allows you to use any reasonable force to defend yourself depend on the nature of the assault or to prevent the commission of a violent offense to another person. 

The test which applies in this defense is ‘reasonable force test’.  

That means you must use reasonable force once defending yourself. 

Example use of a knife to defend yourself from a person who has a knife to harm you is a reasonable force but once you use firearms (pistol) it may be an unreasonable force.

You can use this defense only where there is a possibility of death or grievous harm.

Final Remarks

The above defenses are just basic defenses of criminal liability. Other defenses are also available depending on certain offense Example defense of necessity. 

However, Before embarks on any of them you must satisfy yourself with a criminal law position in your country.

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