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.


    In criminal law, 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.
    defences in criminal law

    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 a 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.



    In our life, we never know when we will fall into the hands of the state/republic and being accused of an offense. 

    It is from that view where the essence of this post can be found. Being accused of an offense is not a good thing. It may cause depression. 

    In some instances, you may be convicted simply because you failed to defend yourself properly. I don’t wish that to happen to you and here I will share important things to consider when defending yourself in a criminal case.

    How to win a criminal case in court

    Apart from several criminal law defenses that you can raise to defend yourself but all in all, defending yourself is an art. 

    An art to convince the court that you’re not liable for the offense charged so the court can set you free or sentence you with a lesser punishment. 

    When you do not have money to hire a lawyer or you wish not to hire a lawyer due to some reasons know to yourself you may consider the following things when defending yourself so as you can win your case.

    1. Understand the elements/ingredients of the Offence Charged

    This is a foundation for defending yourself. 

    Every offense in law has its ingredients. 

    Court considers each element of the offense before judge you.  

    You can get the ingredients of your offense by considering the wording of the section which provides for the said offense as stipulated on ‘charge’. 

    The technique in defense is to undo any of the ingredients to make the offense unjustifiable.

    Consider the following example to get my point

    Assume you are charged with an offense of Stealing contrary to section 258 (1) of the Penal Code. That section provides that 
    A person who fraudulently and without the claim of right takes anything capable of being stolen, or fraudulently converts to the use of any person other than the general or special owner thereof anything capable of being stolen steals that thing.”

    From the above provision, the following important elements of stealing can be drawn
    • Fraudulent taking
    • without a claim of right
    • the thing must be capable of being stolen

    So when defending yourself in a stealing case you must direct your evidence to show that you did not fraudulently take the thing or you have a claim of right over the thing or the thing is not capable of being stolen. By doing that the chance to found not guilty is higher.

    If you will fail to determine the ingredient you may ask a lawyer or someone with the proper knowledge to help you.

    2. Confidence

    Confidence entails authority and authenticity. Be confident when defending yourself. Regardless you truly did the offense or the matter has been cooked for you. 

    Confidence will add credit to your evidence. 

    I know it’s hard for a normal person to be confident before the court but try to build one.

    3. Avoid Contradictory Statements

    Contradictory statements will spoil your evidence. It will show that you’re lying. For example, when you give your evidence you said: “on the date of the event I was home with my family, I didn’t steal from anyone”. 

    But when asked by the state attorney you say “on the date of event I was out with my friends, having fun”. This contradiction raises doubts. It may cost you. Be straight forward and remember everything you said to avoid contradictions. 

    The bad contradictions are those which go to the root of the elements of the offense you're charged with.

    4. Clarity.

    The clarity of your explanation gives credit to your evidence. Be clear. When necessary adduce documentary evidence to clarify your point.

    5. Attack the prosecution evidence (prove them wrong)

    A criminal case is like a movie. The court was not present at the scene of the crime. It only judges you basing on the story (evidence) it receives from both sides. 

    When defending yourself you have to convince the court that your story is a true reflection of what happened and the prosecution side story is a lie.

    6. Mind your conducts/demeanor

    Courts consider your conduct throughout the case even in Judgment. While defending yourself be humble, address the court with respect. Make your integrity a priority.

    7. Call witnesses (choose them carefully)

    Witnesses are the key players in your defense. They can help you win or ruin your case. Call only witnesses who can prove or disprove specific elements/facts of your case. Rank them according to their importance. 

    There is no minimum or a maximum number of witnesses. Many witnesses do not mean that you are going to win. The quantity does not matter but the quality.

    Final Remarks

    My aim here was to share with you defenses in criminal law and how you can use them to win a criminal case in a court.

    Failure to defend yourself in a criminal case will entail that you agree with everything adduced by the prosecution side and the court will judge you solely based on the prosecution side evidence. In this case chance of found guilt is high.

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