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What Does Defense Law Include?

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Defense law is a body of law that contains all of the applicable defenses to crimes or lawsuits. It is a very broad term that can have different meanings depending on whether it is used in the criminal or civil context. Broadly speaking, defense law encompasses every argument you could make to absolve yourself of criminal or civil liability for your actions.

Defenses in Criminal Law

In criminal law, the prosecutor has to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt. Defense law within a criminal context can take one of two firms: either demonstrating that the prosecutor has failed to prove one or more elements of their case, or introducing an affirmative defense.

There are numerous ways to demonstrate that a prosecutor has not proved his case. You can provide an alternate explanation for the evidence presented. You can provide new evidence, in the form of an alibi or alternate theory of the crime. Or, you can simply try to introduce reasonable doubt by proving that even if everything the prosecutor said was true, there was still an alternate explanation for the crime.

Affirmative Defenses

Defense law also encompasses affirmative defenses. An affirmative defense is a legal justification for your actions that absolves you of liability. For example, if you murder someone but only did so because that person was coming after you with a gun, you can claim that you acted in self-defense. Instead of trying to prove that you did not commit the murder, you will need to prove that you really did act to protect yourself. In other words, you admit to committing the crime but are using an affirmative defense.

Insanity is another affirmative defense, albeit a controversial one. If you were insane at the time of committing a crime, you can attempt to prove that you did not rationally know right-from-wrong. If you are able to prove this, you may be absolved of liability, although you will usually face compulsory mental health counseling, most likely in an institution.

There are a few other affirmative defenses included in criminal defense laws as well, such as diplomatic immunity (diplomats cannot be tried by a regular court for their crimes) and statute of limitations defenses (some crimes must be prosecuted within a certain frame of time or the claim is no longer valid).

Mitigating Circumstances

Affirmative defenses do not always have to be used to prove you are completely innocent. They can also be used to demonstrate that you should be convicted of a less serious crime because there were mitigating circumstances. For example, in some jurisdictions if you kill your spouse because you find him or her in the act of cheating on you, your crime may be reduced from murder to a lesser charge like manslaughter. These affirmative defenses stem from the courts recognition that, in certain instances, there may be exigent circumstances surrounding the commission of a crime.

Because of the wide range of defenses available in criminal defense law, and the potential severity of penalties associated with criminal charges it is wise to seek the counsel of an experienced criminal defense attorney when you are accused of a crime.

Civil Defense Law

Civil suits are different from criminal lawsuits, in that a civil suit is brought by one party against another. The penalties a defendant faces in a civil suit are usually monetary only, although in some cases a court can grant an injunction or order you to stop doing certain behavior. You cannot be sent to prison if you lose a civil suit.

Defenses to Civil Suits

Defenses to civil suits are similar in some ways to criminal law: you can prove that you did not do the action that you were accused of, or you can prove that you were acting in self-defense. However, there are additional defenses available in civil suits in some cases. For example, if you were negligent but the other party was as well, you can claim contributory negligence. In some states, if the other party was partially responsible for their own injury, they can recover nothing. That is the minority rule, however, and in most jurisdictions you will still be responsible for the injury but the plaintiffs recovery will be reduced by the percentage that he or she is at fault.

Civil suits are a very broad field that encompasses tort law, property law, and contract law among others. The types of defense vary greatly depending on the issues relevant in the case. Again, speaking to a lawyer to get a full understanding of defenses available to you is your best bet for understanding civil defense law.

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