What are criminal defenses in Minnesota?
We have two main types of criminal defenses. First, some defenses undermine the prosecutor’s proof of their basic claims. Second, others are affirmative defenses.
And, when defense lawyers become law enforcers, suppressing illegal, unreliable evidence; that is another type.
The charge is based on hearsay
In any Minnesota criminal case, state or federal, a prosecuting attorney prepares a charging document (a Complaint or Indictment) accusing a person. And the charge always contains potential criminal defenses.
The prosecutor must base the charge on second-hand information, reported to them, usually by police. So prosecutors rely upon information that police officers provide.
But police officers mostly get their information from what other people say. Even physical evidence requires foundation to have meaning. And police officers rarely have personal knowledge of what they are reporting. They are not eyewitnesses.
So, with many layers of second-hand information, something could go wrong.
For example, someone falsely accuses an innocent person. And a prosecutor charges the person based on second hand information.
So, the unreliability of the hearsay basis of criminal charges creates criminal defenses.
Yes. We have the presumption of innocence for a reason. So the accused is innocent. And she is not-guilty, unless the prosecutor can persuade a jury that no possible inference consistent with innocence exists.
The burden of proof is the highest — beyond any reasonable doubt. And that is the core legal defense in every criminal case.
The prosecutor has to try to overcome all reasonable doubt about each and every element of the crimes charged. So criminal defenses include showing the prosecutor’s failure to prove one or more element.
The charge contains criminal defenses
Every crime is defined by a written statute. And the statute defines the elements of a crime. But all crimes generally include at least the basic elements of identity, prohibited act, and criminal intent. So criminal defenses include showing the lack of evidence for one or more of the elements.
Identity. If someone did commit a crime, who did the prohibited act?
Prohibited Act element
Prohibited Act. Did someone perform an act? If so, does the law prohibit that act?
Criminal Intent element
A crime requires Criminal Intent. The two types of criminal intent are specific and general.
Specific intent means the actor must have intended to cause the result of the prohibited act. An example is premeditated murder.
General intent means the actor must have intended to perform the prohibited act, even if not the result of it. An example is manslaughter.
There are varying levels of criminal intent required by criminal statutes. Criminal defenses include the lack of criminal intent. For example, an accident is an unintentional act.
The criminal intent requirement
How low can criminal intent go? Sometimes, a gross negligence level of intent is enough for criminal liability. Minnesota’s Criminal Vehicular Operation crime is an example.
But Simple Negligence is not intentional by definition. And so simple negligence alone cannot create criminal liability.
Sometimes a condition to an intent element of crime is knowledge, as in contraband possession-type crimes. A person cannot be guilty of a possession crime if without knowledge of the contraband identity or location.
However, knowledge alone does not prove dominion and control required for criminal possession.
A deeper look at intent criminal defenses
We can look deeper into criminal-intent proof-requirements as this court did:
“Crimes used to be categorized as involving specific intent or general intent. In recent years, four categories of mens rea have been delineated—purpose, knowledge, recklessness, negligence. See United States v. Bailey, 444 U.S. 394, 404, 100 S.Ct. 624, 62 L.Ed.2d 575 (1980); Model Penal Code § 2.02 (1974). The two categories most difficult to distinguish, and the most germane to our discussion, are purpose and knowledge. A person acts with purpose when the person ‘consciously desires that result, whatever the likelihood of that result happening from [the person’s] conduct.’ United States v. United States Gypsum Co., 438 U.S. 422, 445, 98 S.Ct. 2864 (1978) (quoting Wayne R. LaFave & Austin W. Scott, Jr., Criminal Law 196 (1972)). A person acts with knowledge when the person is aware ‘that the result is practically certain to follow from [the person’s] conduct, whatever [the person’s] desire may be as to that result.’ Id.”State v. Hage, 595 NW 2d 200, 207 fn. 1 (Minn. Sup. Ct. 1999).
Other criminal defenses
Beyond the government’s burden of proof on the elements, there are other types of criminal defenses. These include Affirmative Defenses.
Defenses addressed in detail on other pages:
Affirmative Criminal Defenses
Some criminal defenses place an initial burden of production of evidence on the accused. And we call them affirmative defenses.
Once the defense attorney offers evidence supporting an affirmative defense, the burden of proof then shifts. And the prosecutor must persuade the jury beyond all reasonable doubt — that the defense should not apply. An example of an affirmative defense is Self-Defense.
Question? You can call Minneapolis Defense Lawyer Thomas Gallagher at 612 333-1500