When you go to trial for an alleged charge, the prosecutor must prove his/her evidence beyond a reasonable doubt to obtain a conviction against you. If your defense attorney can provide convincing evidence that can raise doubt about the prosecutor’s case against you, the court will not convict you of the alleged charge.
Depending on your unique case’s facts, an experienced defense attorney can apply various acceptable defenses to challenge the alleged charge. A “mistake of fact” is one of the defenses your attorney can apply to challenge the prosecutor’s case against you to obtain the best possible outcome on the alleged charge.
We at Phoenix Criminal Attorney can evaluate your case particulars to determine if this defense will work to your advantage to obtain an acquittal of the charge or a reduced charge. Aside from being your legal representative in court, we will also be your legal advisor through every stage of the prosecution process to increase your odds of obtaining a desirable outcome on the alleged charge.
Understanding a “Mistake of Fact” as a Legal Defense in Criminal Charges
A mistake of fact is an applicable defense to particular crimes where the defendant argues that he/she did the alleged act but only because he/she did not understand particular facts of the situation. That means he/she did not have the criminal intent to commit the alleged felony or misdemeanor offense.
However, for this defense to be valid and viable, the mistake or misunderstanding of the facts must be reasonable, meaning any other ordinary and sober person could do the same under similar circumstances.
Circumstances or Situations When A Mistake of Fact Defense is Applicable
According to Arizona Revised Statute (ARS) 13-204, your attorney can raise this defense to challenge the alleged charge in either of the following two circumstances only:
- The Defense Could Negate the Culpable Mental Intent Necessary for the Alleged Charge Conviction
One of the situations in which your attorney could apply a mistake of fact as a defense is to prevent the prosecution team from proving that you had culpable mental intent when committing the alleged offense.
Generally speaking, most felony crimes require the prosecutor to prove that you had any of the following culpable mental states for a conviction:
- Criminal negligence
The necessary culpable mental state is also legally known as “mens rea,” meaning you had a “guilty mind.” The culpable mental state required for a conviction will depend on the alleged offense. However, a mistake of fact will not work as a defense for strict liability crimes such as:
- Statutory rape
- Selling alcohol to a minor
If the alleged offense requires the prosecutor to prove that you had a culpable mental state to obtain a conviction against you, the mistake of fact defense could work in your favor for the best possible outcome.
By providing clear evidence to prove that the alleged acts were due to mistaken belief about the facts of the situation or ignorance, your attorney can raise reasonable doubt on the prosecutor’s case against you.
- The Defense Could Work In Your Favor to Support a Legal Defense of Justification
A mistake of fact defense could apply to your unique case to support a legal defense of justification as outlined in Chapter 4 of Title 13. A criminal charge is justifiable if you did it for the following reasons:
- To defend yourself (self-defense)
- To defend a third person
- To prevent a crime
- To defend your property
- Another person coerced or intimidated you into doing the alleged act
For this defense to work in your favor to support the justification defense, your attorney must prove that you acted in a reasonable but ultimately mistaken belief that your conduct was justifiable under those circumstances.
For example, Mark hears screams around his apartment compound and sees John pointing a shotgun at Lucy. With a reasonable belief that he is preventing a possible homicide, Mark decides to shoot John with his/her legally acquired pistol. However, John’s shotgun was a toy that closely resembled a real gun.
In this above scenario, Mark’s attorney can use a mistake of fact to support justification defense for the best possible on the alleged charge.
Examples of Specific Intent and General Intent Crimes Where A Mistake of Fact Defense Could Apply
Generally, the concept of intent can significantly impact the verdict of the alleged offense. If you are under arrest for an alleged criminal offense, the prosecutor will consider several factors, including whether your offense falls under either of the following categories of intent:
- Specific intent
- General intent
Specific intent crimes require the prosecutor to prove that you had the intent to commit the alleged act and achieve particular results when committing the act. However, for general intent crimes, the prosecutor will only have to prove that you had the intent to commit the alleged act, meaning it was not an accident.
Here are examples of specific intent and general intent crimes where a mistake of fact defense could apply to challenge the allegations you are up against for the best possible outcome:
According to ARS 13-1204, you commit the crime of aggravated assault when you knowingly, intentionally, and recklessly provoke, insult, or cause injury to another person. Specifically, for a conviction for ARS 13-1204 violation, the prosecutor must prove that you intentionally did either of the following:
- You caused severe injury to another person
- You used a deadly weapon or tool to inflict injury on the person or put them under reasonable fear of bodily injury
- You committed a misdemeanor battery on a peace officer, firefighter, or police officer
- You committed an assault on a restrained person
- You committed an assault on a child who is aged 15 years or below, and you are 18 years or older
- You committed an assault after entering another person’s residence or private home
Depending on your case’s facts, a conviction for ARS 13-1204 violation will attract a jail sentence of between 1.5 years to 25 years and a fine not exceeding $150,000. Fortunately, there are several defenses a skilled attorney could apply to challenge this charge, including a mistake of fact defense.
If the prosecutor cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you had a specific intent to obtain particular results when committing the alleged act, you will not be guilty of the charge. A mistake of fact defense could work in your favor to negate your mental state or criminal intent at the time of the offense to obtain the best possible outcome.
Theft is also a specific intent crime that could result in severe penalties upon conviction at trial. According to ARS 13-1802, you commit a theft offense when you knowingly and intentionally use or take another person’s property without the owner’s consent. Typically, in most cases, the prosecutor will file theft charges as a misdemeanor unless:
- The monetary value of the property in question exceeds $1,000
- The property in question is a firearm
If the prosecutor has evidence to prove any of the above facts, he/she will file your charge as a felony. A misdemeanor conviction for an alleged ARS 13-1802 violation offense will attract the following potential penalties:
- A fine of up to $2500
- A maximum of six months jail sentence
- Pay restitution to the victim (accuser) of the offense
- Misdemeanor probation
On the flip side, a felony conviction for a theft offense under ARS 13-1802 will attract more severe penalties, including:
- Felony probation
- A fine ranging between $1,000 to $150,000
- 2 to 12.5 years of custody in the state prison
- Pay restitution to the victim (accuser) of the offense
Because theft is a specific intent crime, the prosecutor must establish that you had criminal intent to deprive the accuser of his/her legal right to own the property in question for a conviction. If you had a reasonable belief that the property in question is yours, a mistake of fact defense could work in your favor to challenge the allegations for the best possible outcome.
Another offense where a mistake of fact defense could apply is kidnapping. Kidnapping is a general intent crime defined under ARS 13-1304. According to this statute, you commit the crime of kidnapping when you knowingly restrain another person with a specific intent in your mind, for example, the intent to:
- Hold the person for involuntary servitude
- Hold the person for ransom
- Inflict injury, death, or a sex offense on the person
- Interfere with a political function or performance of any government function
- Put the person in reasonable fear for his/her safety
- Seize or take control over a train, ship, plane, or a vehicle
Depending on your unique case facts, the prosecutor could file your kidnapping case as either a Class 2, Class 3, or Class 4 felony. Class 2 felony is the most severe and could attract a jail sentence of up to $20 years upon conviction.
For a conviction for the alleged ARS 13-1304 violation charge, the prosecutor must prove that you had the criminal intent to hold or restrain the victim. If you had a reasonable belief that the child you allegedly had in your custody was supposed to be with you and not the parent, a mistake of fact could be a viable defense to challenge the kidnapping allegations.
Misdemeanor assault is a general intent crime defined under ARS 13-1203. According to this law, you commit a misdemeanor assault crime when you intentionally and knowingly cause physical injury to another person.
As long as you intended to cause physical contact with the victim and you did it, the prosecutor can secure a conviction against you for ARS 13-1203 violation even if your actions did not cause injury to the victim.
For instance, when someone calls you an imbecile and you decide to punch him/her in the eye, you could be guilty of misdemeanor assault even if you did not intend to cause injury to the person. What matters for a misdemeanor assault charge conviction under ARS 13-1203 is that you intentionally and knowingly punched the person.
Depending on your unique case circumstances, the prosecutor will pursue your case as a Class 1 misdemeanor, Class 2 misdemeanor, or Class 3 misdemeanor. Unlike an aggravated assault, a misdemeanor assault will carry a lighter sentence upon conviction, including:
- A jail term ranging between one month to six months
- A fine ranging between $500 to $2,500
- Misdemeanor or informal probation
- Community service
To challenge this charge at trial, your defense attorney could use various defenses, including self-defense and mistake of fact defense. If you had a reasonable belief the victim or accuser would inflict injury on you or a loved one, a mistake of fact defense could work in your favor to support a justification defense, as explained in the previous paragraph.
Other Criminal Defenses Your Attorney Can Use to Challenge the Alleged Charge
Generally speaking, several defenses are available to challenge a criminal charge. A skilled and experienced attorney will dedicate ample time to the alleged charge to find the best viable defenses that could work in your favor for a desirable outcome.
Aside from a mistake of fact defense, a seasoned defense attorney could use the following defenses to challenge the alleged charge to obtain a lighter charge or case dismissal:
- Entrapment by the Law Enforcement Officer
If you are charged with an offense because a law enforcement officer applied undue pressure or force on you to commit the alleged act, which you would not have committed, the entrapment defense could work on your case. Entrapment by law enforcement officers would be a viable defense for most crimes, mainly if your arrest occurred after an undercover sting operation.
For this defense to work in your favor, you must prove that the arresting officers acted inappropriately or unlawfully to induce you to commit an offense that you would otherwise not commit. Examples of crimes where an entrapment defense could be applicable to challenge the allegations you are facing include (but are not limited to):
- Possession of marijuana
- Transportation of marijuana
- Cocaine trafficking
- Solicitation of prostitution
- Intoxication or Incapacitation
Another common and viable defense for challenging a criminal charge is a claim of intoxication or incapacitation. To use intoxication as a defense, you must first admit that you did the alleged act, but only because you were under the influence of alcohol or drugs, meaning you did not understand what you were doing was illegal.
Intoxication defense could work in your favor regardless of whether the intoxication was voluntary or involuntary. Voluntary intoxication occurs when you knowingly consume alcohol or other controlled drug substances. On the other hand, involuntary intoxication occurs if someone fools or forces you into consuming a drug or alcohol unknowingly.
In either of these two circumstances, you will need adequate evidence to prove that the alleged acts were due to intoxication, meaning you did have criminal intent to commit the offense. However, in most cases, voluntary intoxication defense will not work for general intent crimes like rape, driving under the influence, or involuntary manslaughter.
According to ARS 13-502, you could be guilty, except insane, if, at the time of the offense, you did not know the alleged criminal act was wrong due to a mental illness. When you decide to use this defense, you must admit the allegations you are up against are true, but you did not have the mental competence to know your actions or conduct was wrong.
While insanity is a controversial defense, a seasoned defense attorney could provide clear evidence and proper arguments to support this defense for the best attainable outcome.
Take Away Points
The court could accept a mistake of fact defense as long as your defense attorney can provide clear evidence to prove the mistake was honest and you did it in good faith. In addition to helping you understand how the law applies to your case, your attorney will be your legal voice in court to fight for the best possible verdict. Here are tips to help you find a dependable attorney for your case:
- Find an experienced attorney
- Find a certified and qualified attorney
- Find a licensed attorney
- Find an accessible and available attorney
- Find an accredited and reputable attorney
- Find an attorney with excellent communication skills
- Find an attorney with fair or cost-friendly services
Find a Defense Attorney Near Me
Mistake of fact defense is acceptable in criminal cases to challenge the mental intent necessary for a conviction for particular charges. If you are under investigation or arrest for an alleged criminal offense, our seasoned attorneys at Phoenix Criminal Attorney can help.
Even if a mistake of fact defense is weak for your unique case, our attorneys could explore several other defenses to obtain the best possible outcome on the alleged charge. If it is impossible to obtain a case dismissal, our skilled attorneys will strive to convince the court to reduce the charge to a lighter charge.
Call us at 602-551-8092 to schedule a consultation with our credible attorneys as soon as possible to examine your case and prepare the best defense possible for your unique charge.