What are criminal defenses in Minnesota?
We have two main types of criminal defenses. First, some defenses undermine the prosecutors burden of proving their basic claims with evidence. Second, others are affirmative defenses.
And, when defense lawyers become law enforcers, suppressing illegal, unreliable evidence, that is another type of defense.
The charge is based on hearsay
In any criminal case in Minnesota, state or federal, a prosecuting attorney prepares a charging document (a Complaint or Indictment) accusing a person of a crime. And the charge always contains potential criminal defenses.
The prosecutor must base the charge on second-hand information, reported to them by others, usually police officers. Prosecutors rely upon information that police officers provide.
But police officers get their information from what other people say. Any physical evidence requires foundation to have meaning. And police officers rarely have personal knowledge of what they are reporting. They are not witnesses.
With so many layers of second-hand information, something could go wrong.
Someone falsely accuses an innocent person. So, the unreliability of the hearsay basis of criminal charges creates criminal defenses.
We have the presumption of innocence for a reason. The accused is innocent. 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. 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 to the crime charged. Criminal defenses include those that show the prosecutor’s failure to prove one or more element with evidence
The charge contains criminal defenses
Every crime is defined by a statute. The statute defining the crime states the elements of a crime. But all crimes generally include at least the basic elements of identity, prohibited act, and criminal intent. Criminal defenses include showing the lack of evidence supporting one or more of the elements.
Identity. If someone committed 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.
General intent means the actor must have intended to perform the prohibited act, even if not the result of it.
There are varying levels of criminal intent required by various criminal statutes. Criminal defenses include the lack of criminal intent. For example, an accident by definition means an act was unintentional.
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 cannot give rise to criminal liability.
Sometimes a condition to an intent element of crime is knowledge, as in possession of contraband type crimes. A person cannot be guilty of a possession crime if without knowledge of the contraband or its 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 one court did here:
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 that place a burden of production of evidence on the accused. we call them affirmative defenses.
Once the defense attorney offers evidence supporting an affirmative defense, the burden of proof then rests upon the prosecution. And the prosecutor must persuade the fact-finder 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