What Is an Affirmative Defense?

An affirmative defense is a legal concept that states that even though the defendant in a criminal case has committed an act which constitutes a crime, they should not be found guilty for various reasons. It is important to understand how these defenses work and when they can be used to mount an effective criminal defense strategy.

In general, affirmative defenses involve facts and/or circumstances in a criminal case that excuse or justify the accused's conduct. Some of the most common affirmative defenses used in criminal cases include self-defense, necessity, intoxication, and duress.

Self-Defense as a Legal Defense

Self-defense is an affirmative defense that can be used when a defendant has committed an act of violence to protect themselves from another person’s aggression. In order to successfully use this defense, the accused must be able to prove that they had a reasonable belief that their life was in imminent danger and that they had no other choice but to resort to self-defense.

Notably, Texas’s Castle Doctrine allows residents to use force, including deadly force, to defend themselves, their family, and property from an intruder. If someone was charged with a homicide crime such as manslaughter or murder after killing an intruder, it’s likely that their criminal defense attorney would use an affirmative defense and cite the defendant’s right to use force in that situation.

Mistake of Fact Defense

Defendants in Texas can mount an affirmative defense based on a mistake of fact. This defense suggests that a defendant engaged in illegal activity as a mistake based upon a reasonably formed belief, thus negating the culpability required to convict the defendant.

Mistake of Law Defense

Ignorance of the law is not a defense, but a mistake of law based on certain circumstances can be. If you engaged in illegal conduct based upon an official statement from the government or a written interpretation of the law in an opinion of a court of record, using an affirmative defense can help you demonstrate a mistake of law.

Intoxication Defense

Involuntary intoxication may be used as an affirmative defense to criminal activity. If you believe you were in a situation where you were subjected to intoxicating substances against your will and engaged in illegal activity while intoxicated, an affirmative defense can help you explain your actions and demonstrate that you shouldn’t be convicted of your charges.

Necessity Defense

The necessity defense is based on the notion that the defendant had to choose between making two unlawful actions due to circumstances beyond their control. In order to use this defense successfully, the defendant must demonstrate that the harm caused by their action was less than the harm that would have been caused had they not taken any action at all.

A famous thought experiment called “The Trolley Problem” demonstrates why this defense can work. In the Trolley Problem, a railroad controller is forced to choose whether a train should hit a group of people stuck on the track or just one person stuck on another track. In either scenario, the controller must make an impossible decision and choose to kill one or multiple people.

Duress Defense

If you were compelled to engage in illegal activity under force or the threat of force, your attorney may use an affirmative defense that you were under duress. Acting under mere persuasion, however, is not enough – you must prove that you were in reasonable fear of your safety or life (or that of a loved one) if you didn’t engage in the unlawful activity compelled upon you.

Entrapment Defense

Lastly, you can defend against criminal charges when you believe you were induced into committing a criminal act through the persuasion of a law enforcement officer or agency.

Contact Us for Legal Assistance

Understanding affirmative defense when you believe there’s a reasonable explanation for your actions. Such a defense can significantly impact the outcome of your case and protect your rights. Rodriguez & Gimbert, P.L.L.C. is here to support you in utilizing this powerful legal tool effectively.

Contact our experienced attorneys today for personalized guidance and assistance tailored to your unique situation.