Mistake of Fact
WHEN CAN THE DEFENSE OF MISTAKE OF FACT BE USED TO DEFEND YOU IN A CRIMINAL CASE PENDING IN ONE OF THE LOS ANGELES COURTHOUSES?
If someone does something criminal and is arrested for it, but that person honestly and reasonably was operating under the mistaken belief that a certain fact or facts were true then they may be able to claim the legal defense of mistake of fact. This crime is best illustrated by an example. If someone walks into a crowded room with a black briefcase and sets it on the ground so they can deal with some business and then returns to the location they put the case and mistakenly take another case that looks similar and walks away, they would not be guilty of a crime because they were operating under the belief that the briefcase they took was their own. This example is one that is pretty clear to see that the person who took the wrong briefcase should not be charged with a crime.
There are however, other circumstances that come up all of the time where it is not so clear whether the person who made the mistake should be charged with a crime or not. Under these circumstances the best course of action is to consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney who has traveled down the road you are about to travel. Because savvy defense attorneys have actually seen success and failure as it related to defenses, they are well suited to evaluate your situation and properly advise you. I enjoy meeting with clients and having them lay everything out on the table and step by step deciding what the best course of action is for their circumstances. This requires them being honest and straight forward with me and not leaving anything important out of their story. I make it a point to tell the client that if they leave something out of their story it will likely come back to haunt them down the line. It is important to emphasize that if I am equipped with all information, good and bad, I will be able to make the moves necessary to achieve the best possible result for them.
LAW RELATED TO THE LEGAL DEFENSE OF MISTAKE OF FACT IN LOS ANGELES
A defendant can be found not guilty if they did not have the mental state needed to commit the crime. This would happen if the defendant did not know a fact or mistakenly believed a fact, resulting in the defendant’s inability to have the needed intent to commit the crime. In California, this applies to specific intent crimes such as assault, attempted murder or burglary. What matters in these crimes is the mental state of the person while they are committing a crime. Mistake of fact is a rare defense, but effective when a key component of the crime is unknown to the person, or the circumstances revolving the crime were vastly different from what the actor of the crime knew.