In a Criminal Defense Case, What’s the Difference Between Mistake of Law and Mistake of Fact?

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It is often said in courts of law that if an individual is ignorant to the law, this is not a strong legal tactic for their defense. In other words, just because you didn’t know the law that you broke, this doesn’t mean that you’re “off the hook.” However, in some situations, ignorance may be a legitimate defense.

If you are being charged of a criminal act, your Austin criminal defense attorney may bring up one or both of the related following terms: mistake of law and mistake of fact. As someone who may not be well-versed in the law, these two terms can often be confusing and misleading.

Below, we will outline the definitions of both of these terms and how they differ from one other when it comes to your defense case.

What Is Mistake of Fact?

Mistake of fact happens if an individual understands an incorrect “fact” about something involved in their crime. For example, if you were to purchase property that was actually stolen, but you were made to believe that the property was not stolen and that the seller was the legitimate owner, this would be a mistake of fact on your part.

A defense by mistake of fact is legitimate for specific intent crimes as well as for all general intent crimes. Still, in the case of general intent crimes, it must be proven that the individuals mistake was reasonable. Mistakes do not have to be reasonable for specific intent crimes.

What Is Mistake of Law?

A mistake of law occurs when an individual does not know the law before breaking it. A mistake of law defense is generally not a solid defense for your actions in a criminal case — especially when it comes to general intent cases.

On the other hand, in some specific intent crimes, there are some circumstances in which mistake of law can be your defense. For example, if an individual legitimately thought that they owned a specific item and used it or kept it in their home, if the item turned out to be the property of someone else, the first individual could use the defense of mistake of law. They didn’t know that they had committed theft.

Hiring an Attorney for Your Defense

If you have recently been charged with a criminal act, it is your constitutional right to be defended by an attorney in court. Your Austin criminal defense attorney will not focus on whether you are innocent or guilty — or on how guilty you are. Instead, they will automatically use their available resources, support, and energy to defend your case and defend you. Their primary concern is your constitutional rights, and they will work hard to achieve the least penal outcome for you.

To learn more about the legal options available to you in your current situation, contact an experienced and reputable Austin criminal defense attorney today.