How to defend a criminal case successfully depends on many different factors.
No two cases are the same. Each client is unique.
An experienced criminal defense lawyer for over 25 years, David Pflaum builds a defense and helps his clients win their cases by examining the following areas to determine the best strategy.
STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES OF THE CASE
The defense attorney builds the best defense based upon the strengths and weaknesses of the prosecutions case.
The Client: It is absolutely essential to meet with the client to learn firsthand everything that happened to cause the client to be suspected of committing a criminal offense.
Clients usually have an enormous amount of helpful information that the defense attorney may use to develop the strengths of the defense case effectively.
It is also vital to learn everything about the client including his or her work history, education, training, experience, physical and mental health, disabilities, support in the community, military experience, achievements, voluntary service, professional certificates, special credentials, and other information about his or her current life.
Detention and Arrest: The time, place, and the probable cause for the police to detain a client, search him or her, and make an arrest are very important.
This information helps the defense lawyer determine whether there may have been a violation of the client’s constitutional rights.
If so a petition can be filed in court to challenge the unlawful acts of the police, resulting in the possibility that the case may be dismissed or the criminal charges reduced.
Witnesses: It is necessary to know all about the witnesses, who they were, what they claim to have heard or seen, whether the witness statements were recorded, and the background of the witnesses. The background of a witness, including prior arrests or convictions, might prove that the witness should not be believed in court.
This factor may be a weakness in the prosecution case.
Witness statements may also lead to further investigation about whether witnesses actually saw or heard what they claim. Witness statements that are inconsistent with each other is helpful to the accused as well because they may show that there is no clear version of what allegedly happened.
Problems with witness credibility may cast reasonable doubt on the validity of the criminal charges, thus leading to a dismissal or reduction of the criminal charges.
Additional strengths and weaknesses of a case are developed below in the next category related to “Lack of Evidence.”
LACK OF EVIDENCE
Evidence can take the form of many different things such as photographs, recordings, fingerprints, 911 calls, eye witnesses, ear witnesses, fruits of the alleged crime like drugs or stolen property, DNA, blood and breath tests, weapons, diaries, writings, text messages, facebook posts, financial records, medical records, video recordings from police officers body cams, videos from patrol cars.
The defense lawyer thoroughly examines the alleged evidence to determine whether it supports the prosecution’s case. Often times the defense lawyer finds weaknesses or fault with a particular form of evidence that the defense lawyer can use in court to defend the case successfully.
The defense lawyer may also challenge the evidence by showing it does not prove the charges, or that the evidence tends to prove that someone else is guilty of the alleged crime.
Most importantly sometimes evidence that is not present in a case is just as important as what is present. The lack of evidence helps prove that the accused is not guilty of the crime.
A witness may mistakenly identify the wrong person as the defendant in many instances.
This is particularly true where the witness was under extreme pressure while observing a crime, even worse when the person is the victim of the crime.
Lighting, timing, location, distance, mental state, stress, and cross-cultural identifications are also factors to consider when evaluating the reliability of witness identification.
Witness identification has been shown to be faulty when it comes about as a result of police applying pressure to a witness to immediately identify a defendant at a “show up” or “curbside” who is handcuffed or detained and presented to the witness as a suspect.
Witness identification has been shown to be faulty when it comes about as a result of police incorrectly showing a witness “mug shots” or a “six pack” of photos of potential suspects.
Lastly a witness who has a motive to lie, an axe to grind, or bias against the accused may be unreliable to prove a case in court.
Everyone has the right to defend themselves. In fact there are laws and jury instructions that state a person has the right to make a stand and to use force against an attacker.
This is particularly true when defending yourself or your property at your own home.
A person may not be guilty of a crime if he or she used force against another person in lawful self defense or defense of another.
A person acts in lawful self defense or defense of another if:
- The person reasonably believes that he or she or someone else was in imminent danger of suffering bodily injury or was in imminent danger of being touched unlawfully;
- The person reasonably believed that the immediate use of force was necessary to defend against that danger; and
- The person used no more force than was reasonably necessary to defend against that danger.
A person’s belief must be reasonable and he or she must have acted because of that belief.
A person is only entitled to use that amount of force that a reasonable person would believe is necessary in the same situation. If the person uses more force than was reasonable, the person defendant did not act in lawful self defense or defense of another.
DEFENSE OF ANOTHER
The law of self defense stated above applies equally to the right to defend someone else if they or their property is in danger.
NO CRIMINAL INTENT
The law says that to be guilty of a crime a person must have “criminal intent” to do so. This term is commonly referred to as “mens rea.”
Penal Code section 26 states generally that a person may not be guilty of committing a crime when he or she commits an act under a mistake of fact disproving any criminal intent.
The defense attorney, with the help of his client and other witnesses, may prove that the accused had no criminal intention of breaking the law.
A good example is walking out of a store or a supermarket and forgetting to pay for an item. Though a person may be charged with petty theft, or even burglary, the applicable law states that a person may not be guilty of this offense if the person did not have the intent to steal the item.
MISTAKE OF FACT
Penal Code section 26 states generally that a person makes a mistake of fact may not be guilty of the alleged crime because he or she had no criminal intent.
Some examples of the “mistake of fact” defense are illustrated below.
For example a “mistake of fact” may apply to the alleged crime of statutory rape in violation of Penal Code 261.5, also known as “having unlawful sexual intercourse with a person under 18.” A good faith, but mistaken, belief that a person was 18 or older may be a defense.
Similarly a good faith belief by the accused that an alleged victim of a kidnapping in violation of Penal Code section 207, or of false imprisonment in violation of Penal code sections 236 and 237, consented to physically moving to another location with the accused may be a defense to the charge of kidnapping.
A good faith belief by the accused that an alleged victim of a rape in violation of Penal Code section 261 consented to sexual intercourse may be a defense to the charge of rape.
Consent given by the owner of a commercial building or residence that an accused may enter the commercial building or residence may be a defense to a charge of burglary in violation of Penal Code section 459.
Consent given to another to drive a vehicle may be a defense to a charge of auto theft in violation of Vehicle Code section 10851
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