What Kinds of Defenses Are Frequently Used in Criminal Cases?

Every criminal defense case is unique, with different circumstances and mitigating factors. There’s no guarantee that a defense that was successful in one case will be equally successful in another similar case. However, there are some defenses that have succeeded multiple times over the years. Whether or not any of these would fit your specific case is something that should be discussed with an experienced criminal defense attorney.

Not Guilty

In criminal cases, the burden of proving the defendant (the person charged with the crime) is guilty is the prosecutor’s responsibility. The foundation of criminal law is that the person charged is innocent until proven guilty. The defendant could be acquitted if the prosecutor cannot prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.


An alibi is a claim (preferably backed up with evidence) that the defendant can’t be guilty because they were somewhere else or with someone else when the crime was committed. For example, if someone was murdered and the coroner estimates that the death occurred at a specific time and place, the defendant could prove their innocence by providing evidence that they were at work somewhere else at that time.

Different Types of Defense

Sometimes, the defense strategy is not to say the defendant didn’t do the crime, but they did it while defending themselves, someone else, or their property. This is most often used in assault, battery, or murder cases. It can be tricky to use because the court will want to know why the defense was needed. The defendant will need to prove they felt they (or someone else) was in immediate physical danger, their property was in danger (for example, someone threatening to burn their home down), and that the force the defendant used was in proportion to the threat. If the defendant is charged with murdering someone and uses defense as the tactic, but the person killed had no weapon and was under the influence of alcohol, the court may find that the defendant didn’t face enough of a threat to warrant their response.

Factual Error

This type of defense can be used in cases where, for example, the defendant is charged with stealing a car. But if the defendant can reasonably prove they thought the car was being loaned or given to them by the owner, they can state that they had no intent to steal.


If the defendant committed a crime but can prove they were forced to by someone else, they may be able to claim coercion as a successful defense strategy.


There are times when a government agent may try to convince someone to commit a crime with the goal of arresting and prosecuting them. Using entrapment as a defense implies that the government agent caused the defendant to do something they wouldn’t otherwise have done. However, there are times when this defense is unsuccessful because the court has reason to believe the defendant would have committed the crime anyway.

Under the Influence of Alcohol or Drugs

There have been cases where the defendant argued that they were under the influence of alcohol or drugs at the time of the case, which caused them to take actions they otherwise wouldn’t have.

The reason for this argument is that many crimes have to demonstrate that the defendant had an intention to cause the crime, and being under the influence could show that they didn’t have the mental capacity to form that intent. This is a risky defense because the court may find that the defendant should have known that alcohol or drugs would impair their judgment and shouldn’t have been under the influence in the first place.

Constitutional Violations

The U.S. Constitution has strict guidelines for how law enforcement acts when collecting evidence and charging people with crimes. If any of those guidelines aren’t adhered to–for example, the defendant was not read the Miranda Rights at the time of arrest or the arrest was due to an illegal stop and search–the case may be thrown out of court.

Insanity Defense

This may be popular in some TV shows and movies, but it’s not necessarily the easiest defense to use. It’s based on the concept that most people understand that committing a crime is wrong, but if someone doesn’t understand that, they’re not sane and can’t be punished the same way a person who did understand the crime was.

However, this can be highly problematic to prove in court. There are legal arguments that the harm caused is still a crime, whether or not the defendant understood that. What’s more, there isn’t a definition of insanity that acts as the standard for judgment, so determining what insanity is and that it applies in the case can be difficult.

Even if the insanity defense is successful, it does not guarantee that the defendant will be freed. They may end up in a mental institution instead of prison.

What Should I Do if I or a Loved One Needs Help with Criminal Defense?

Call the SoCal Law Network at 949-305-7995 to set up a free consultation. Each criminal case is unique, and developing a defense is not a one-size-fits-all task. The specific circumstances of the charges and evidence will influence what strategies should best be used. Our team of experienced, knowledgeable criminal defense attorneys can guide you through the specifics of your case and offer advice on what might be the best approach for you.