The Role of the Criminal Defense Attorney

Selecting the Proper Defense

For almost every type of criminal offense, there is a specific corresponding affirmative defense that may serve to exonerate the person charged with the offense. A very well known example of this is the assertion of self defense when a person is charged with murder or a crime of violence. However, there must be evidence at trial to support the defense or the judge or jury cannot consider it. In Missouri, a person must show he was in immediate danger of physical harm and had no alternative but to exercise a reasonable amount of force under the circumstances to repel the attack before a judge or jury can consider the defense. There are numerous other examples of this. A person charged with stealing may assert he had a claim of right in the item taken and was lawfully retrieving the item taken from him. A person charged with receiving stolen property may show he had every right to believe he was making a lawful purchase of the property. Again, there needs to sufficient evidence presented to support these affirmative defenses for a judge or jury to consider them.

There are other defenses that may apply to a whole range of offenses. A common example of this is mistaken identity. The criminal defense attorney must explore the circumstances under which an identification was made to place the issue in question. Was the person making the identification in apprehension of serious physical injury or death at the time he made the observation? Was it light or dark at the time of the observation? How much time did the witness have to make the observation and did he know the person he is accusing? Was the witness’ eyesight good or poor? These are all crucial considerations a judge or jury must take into consideration when assessing the accuracy of the identification.

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