What Does An Affirmative Criminal Defense Mean?
When a defendant considers how to present their case, one of the biggest potential questions is whether they want to try to prove their innocence. A criminal attorney will tell you that you're under no obligation to prove you're innocent, but there are some times when it's worth the effort.
This is called an affirmative defense. It's an approach that involves stating specific facts to contest the prosecution's story. Here are a few types of affirmative defenses, as well as when you might present one and why you might not.
Examples of Affirmative Defenses
An affirmative defense involves a clear statement of the facts as you see them. Self-defense in assault cases is a classic form of an affirmative defense. When someone claims self-defense, they're acknowledging that certain things happened. However, they're also asserting that they were justified in harming another party because they were afraid they or someone else could be harmed if they didn't act.
Presenting a location-based alibi is also an affirmative defense. If a criminal attorney can prove you were in a different state when an alleged offense occurred, that pretty much torpedoes the prosecution's case.
Someone who asserts the legal right to do something is making an affirmative defense, too. For example, a drug case defendant might prove they had a prescription and were using the medication as prescribed.
When to Be Affirmative
Often, an affirmative defense works better when it acts as a shortcut. If you can go into an arraignment hearing and show the judge you weren't where the prosecution claims you were, that might kill the case before it gets rolling.
Some affirmative defenses do work better at trial. Presumably, a prosecutor didn't buy a self-defense claim if they brought charges, and the judge felt there was enough proof to justify going ahead with the case. In a self-defense case, the goal is to make the affirmative defense chip away at the defense's claims and convince at least one juror that you acted within your rights.
Why You Might Not Want to Present One
A criminal attorney usually doesn't want to present an affirmative argument. The law places the burden of proof on the prosecution. That means they have to prove you did something and that it represented illegal conduct. If they fail to prove their case beyond a shadow of a doubt, a jury is expected to acquit you. Consequently, a lawyer will typically focus on poking holes in the prosecution's arguments.