There are numerous legal defenses that can be raised against a criminal charge in Colorado. Which one is most likely to work in your case can depend on dozens of factors. In this article, Colorado criminal defense lawyers summarize the most common, including:
- 1. Accidents
- 2. Alibi
- 3. Coerced confession
- 4. Double jeopardy
- 5. Duress
- 6. Entrapment
- 7. False accusation
- 8. Insanity
- 9. Intoxication
- 10. Involuntary act
- 11. Mistaken identity
- 12. Mistaken fact
- 13. Necessity
- 14. Parental discipline of a child
- 15. Police misconduct
- 16. Probable cause
- 17. Self-Defense, the defense of someone else, or defense of property
- 18. Unconsciousness
Proof that what you did was just an accident can be a strong defense to a criminal charge.
Most criminal charges in Colorado require a culpable state of mind. Some crimes require you acted with intent. Other crimes only require you acted with criminal negligence. Accidents, however, are just mistakes. They do not involve a culpable state of mind. Raising an accident defense can keep the prosecutor from proving a required element of a crime.
The accident defense, however, does not work if you have been accused of a strict liability crime. These kinds of crimes do not require a culpable state of mind. They can be committed by accident.
Having an alibi can raise a reasonable doubt that you were at the scene of the crime.
An alibi is the defense that you were somewhere else at the time of the crime. You can prove an alibi defense with evidence that you were not where the prosecutor claims you were. If you can show that you were somewhere else, then you could not have committed the crime. Proof of an alibi can come in many forms, including:
- Testimony from other people who were with you while the crime was happening,
- Surveillance video showing you were somewhere else, and
- Receipts from credit card purchases.
3. Coerced confession
Police often coerce people into falsely confessing to a crime. If you confessed to a crime, it will be used as very strong evidence against you in trial. You can challenge a coerced confession in Colorado criminal cases. If you can prove that the confession was coerced, it can drastically undermine the prosecutor's case.
Confessions can be coerced by police if they:
- Physically beat you during the interrogation,
- Keep asking you questions after you invoke your right to a lawyer,
- Deprive you of food or sleep,
- Trick you into confessing, or
- Hold you for an extended period of time.
4. Double jeopardy
The double jeopardy defense argues that you cannot be tried for the same crime, twice.
The Fifth Amendment protects people from multiple prosecutions for the same offense. It forbids prosecutors from filing the same charges after they lose at trial.
The double jeopardy defense is a rare one to invoke in Colorado.
The duress defense argues that you only committed the crime because you were forced to do it by someone else.
That force usually comes in the form of a threat. If someone makes an imminent and specific threat against you or a loved one, it can justify your decision to commit a crime to avoid the threat.
The duress defense is often referred to as the compulsion defense or the coercion defense. It is often confused with the defense of necessity, which is slightly different.
Duress cannot be used as a defense to a Class 1 felony in Colorado.
The entrapment defense claims that police coerced you into committing a crime you would not have done.
When police investigate crimes, they are supposed to catch criminals, not create them. They can provide opportunities for people to do something illegal. However, if they induce you to commit a crime that you would not have dreamed of committing, it can be entrapment.
Whenever police use an undercover agent to find evidence of a crime, an entrapment defense could be an option.
7. False accusation
A lot of criminal charges are filed after a false accusation. People who are angry with you or want revenge for something you did can claim you committed a crime.
The false accusation defense involves showing that the alleged victim is making everything up. A key piece of evidence behind a false accusation defense is your accuser's ulterior motive. If you can show that your accuser has a reason to hurt you, it can undermine their credibility. This can make people question why they accused you of a crime.
False accusation defenses are especially common when you and your accuser are:
- In a child custody dispute,
- Neighbors, or
- Political opponents.
In Colorado, the insanity defense argues that you could not distinguish right from wrong. Therefore, it would be unfair to convict you of a crime because you could not have a culpable state of mind.
In order to be “insane” for the defense, you need to have a mental disease that keeps you from understanding reality. Insanity does not include:
- Anger problems, or
- Habitual criminal urges.
Instead, examples of insanity include:
- Bipolar disorder,
- Schizophrenia, or
- A mental breakdown.
In Colorado, the insanity defense is different from other legal defenses for two reasons:
- Raising the insanity defense has to be done at the arraignment, and
- Succeeding with an insanity defense does not mean you are free to go.
Instead, people who are found “not guilty by reason of insanity” often go to a mental institution for treatment.
The intoxication defense aims to show that you could not have formed a culpable state of mind because you were intoxicated. This defense comes in two forms:
- Voluntary intoxication, where you were responsible for your state, and
- Involuntary intoxication, where someone else got you drunk or drugged.
The involuntary intoxication defense is far stronger because you were an unwilling victim. Both defenses, though, try to keep the prosecutor from showing that you acted intentionally. When the prosecutor has to prove that you intended to commit the crime, the intoxication defense can be a strong one.
10. Involuntary act
You can also fight a criminal charge with the involuntary act defense.
Colorado's criminal laws require that all crimes have to be the result of voluntary acts. Charging someone with a crime that they could not prevent or could not help is unfair. If they were not responsible for the physical act that made the crime, they should not be penalized.
The involuntary act defense argues that you should not be held responsible because the criminal act:
- Was caused by someone else,
- Was the result of a spasm, or
- Only happened because of a tic or mental condition like Tourette Syndrome.
Example: Clyde shoves Mark, who backs into Nancy. Nancy falls down the stairs. Mark could use the involuntary act defense if he is accused of assault.
11. Mistaken identity
The mistaken identity defense claims that the crime happened, but you were not the one who did it.
In cases that rely on eyewitnesses, the mistaken identity defense can be a very strong one. It is becoming well known that witnesses struggle to correctly remember details in certain situations, like:
- When they were threatened with a weapon,
- When they were under stress or in danger,
- When the witness and suspect are different races, and
- When the light was bad or there was a lot of noise.
The mistaken identity defense can also use evidence that police coerced a witness to identify a certain suspect. Police can use lineups or photo arrays that are suggestive. They can do this accidentally or on purpose. Showing evidence that they did it in your case can undermine the witness' identification of you at the scene of the crime.
12. Mistaken fact
The mistaken fact defense claims that you made an honest and reasonable mistake, and this led to the crime.
This mistake, however, has to deal with an objective fact, not the law. The misunderstanding has to concern your surroundings or what you did. Ignorance of the law, however, is never a defense.
Example: You get charged with buying alcohol for a minor. It is not a defense that you did not know it was illegal. It is a defense that you made a mistake and thought you were buying the minor a soda.
The necessity defense claims that you had to commit the crime because not doing it would have been worse. It is often called the choice of two evils defense.
The goal of raising the defense of necessity is to excuse your criminal acts. The defense relies on evidence that what you did prevented something much worse from happening.
The necessity defense is often confused with the duress defense. Necessity and duress are different because duress requires someone else to threaten you. A necessity defense can work without someone else's involvement.
14. Parental discipline of a child
Parents have a right to discipline their child. This right can be invoked to defend against a charge of assault or child abuse.
When a parent physically disciplines their child, it can meet all the requirements for an assault. It intentionally causes physical harm. The parental discipline defense argues that the assault is in the child's best interests over the long term. It also protects the parent's right to raise their children how they want to raise them.
15. Police misconduct
Proof that police committed misconduct can defend against a criminal charge.
Recent years have shown hundreds of instances where police abuse their powers. When police commit misconduct, uncovering their wrongful acts can undermine the evidence against you. That police misconduct can take lots of forms, including:
- Planting evidence of a crime,
- Lying in police reports or in the courtroom,
- Using excessive force during an arrest,
- Violating your rights,
- Performing unreasonable searches that break the Fourth Amendment, and
- Coercing a false confession.
Proof of police misconduct can force the court to throw out evidence against you if it was wrongfully obtained. The misconduct can also lead to a civil rights lawsuit.
16. Probable cause
In most cases, police need to have probable cause that a crime is being committed before they arrest you or search for evidence. If they lack that probable cause, any evidence they find can be thrown away with a motion to suppress evidence.
The lack of probable cause defense is especially common if your case started with a traffic stop. Traffic stops are a type of arrest. Therefore, police need probable cause to pull you over. If they did not have that probable cause, whatever evidence they found during the traffic stop can be suppressed.
17. Self-Defense, the defense of someone else, or defense of property
Self-defense is one of the most common legal defenses to a charge for a violent crime in Colorado. It is also one of the most complicated.
Colorado allows people to use physical force to defend themselves or other people. That force can only be as much as you reasonably believe to be necessary to stop the harm. The force you are allowed to use in defense can include deadly force in some situations. You do not have to retreat from harm before using deadly force to defend against it.
However, there are also numerous situations where self-defense is not a defense. These include the following:
- You initiated the altercation and did not withdraw from it,
- You consented to the use of force, or
- You provoked the altercation in order to hurt someone.
The defense of others and the defense of property use many of the same rules as self-defense. The defense of others is only different in that it involves protecting someone else, rather than yourself. The defense of property is different in that it never allows the use of deadly force, unless it is to prevent arson.
While rare, the unconsciousness defense can be a strong legal argument against a criminal charge.
Most criminal laws in Colorado require you to have a culpable state of mind. This means you had to be acting at least with criminal negligence. It often means you had to be acting with an intent to break the law. If you can show that you were unconscious at the time of the crime, it can keep the prosecutor from proving this element of the offense.
Being unconscious does not just mean being knocked out. It also includes being:
- In a coma,
- Delirious, or
- In an epileptic seizure.