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Defense of Mistake of Fact

Ignorance or "mistake of fact" is a defense to some criminal charges if the fact that is mistaken shows that the defendant lacked a mental state essential to the crime charged. Mistake of fact is a defense most common to "specific intent" crimes." In other words, if the defendant did not specifically intend to commit a crime because of a mistake of fact then the defense of mistake of fact is a viable defense.

Example,: If the defendant honestly and reasonably believed he was selling sugar to his neighbor (when in fact the substance he was selling was cocaine) then the defendant is entitled to an acquittal of the charge of intentionally selling illegal drugs. In this example, the defendant never intended to sell drugs. Of course, the defendant will be required to show that his belief washonest and reasonable.

As stated, the mistake must be honest and reasonable. In some cases mistake of fact is not a viable defense. For example, in a statutory rape case the defendant may not claim that he did not honestly and reasonably know that the victim was under the age of majority. The difference is that the law in statutory rape cases makes no reference to the mental state of mind of the defendant; these types of cases (statutory rape and some other crimes) are referred to as strict liability crimes.

A "mistake of fact defense" is most common to drug cases, sex cases, and theft cases. This defense is less common in battery cases, DUI cases, and endangerment cases. 

Mistake of fact, as a defense, should not be confused with mistake of law (A.K.A. Ignorance of the law). There is no defense of ignorance of the law except in very limited and rare circumstances. 

For more information on the defense of mistake of fact and other defenses to criminal charges call the Law Office of Christopher Dorado today. Initial consultations are free and our office is available to answer questions 24/7. Call today: 909.913.3138

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Mistake of Fact Defense / Defense to Crimes


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