Charged With A Crime In Ohio? Know These Criminal Defense Concepts
In the criminal justice system of Ohio and elsewhere in the United States, you are considered innocent of a criminal offense unless and until you are proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt by a judge or jury. Suppose a prosecutor charges you with rioting when in reality you were peacefully protesting. Maybe the prosecutor charges you with murdering someone when in reality you just made a mistake or had acted in self-defense. Perhaps you are charged with an offense as a result of police misconduct that amounts to a violation of your constitutional rights. In these situations, if you merely assert that you are not guilty and nothing more, then don’t expect a jury or judge to agree – especially when the evidence is stacked up against you. Rather, you need a lawyer who can implement a solid defense strategy to weaken or undermine the prosecutor’s case against you. Here’s an overview of some common criminal defense concepts that might apply in your situation.
Your State Of Mind Might Make All The Difference
A criminal offense is basically an act or omission that is punishable by law. To be found guilty of nearly all criminal offenses in Ohio, a prosecutor not only must prove that you did something (the act), but also that you were of a particular mental state when it happened. Depending on the offense, the prosecutor has to prove that you acted:
- intentionally or purposely;
- recklessly; or
So, while it might appear on the surface that you did something awful, it could be much less clear as to whether you had a guilty mind at the time of your actions. You might have done something accidentally or carelessly which suggests that you acted negligently. Alternatively, you could have meant to do exactly what you did, in which case you intentionally or purposely acted.
For example, suppose at night you walk into your neighbor’s home without their knowledge or consent to retrieve your keys that you mistakenly left behind. Your neighbor calls the police who promptly arrest you for burglary. In Ohio, you would only be convicted of a burglary offense if your purpose of entering your neighbor’s home was to commit a crime. So, if your purpose upon entering your neighbor’s home was simply to retrieve your keys, then you have committed no burglary although you could be found guilty of trespassing – a lesser offense. If your purpose was to take your keys and also your neighbor’s $10,000 Rolex watch, then you could be considered a burglar under Ohio law because stealing that Rolex is a felony. Your mental state can make all the difference.
Mistaking The Facts = Defense; Mistaking The Law = No Defense
If you did something based on your mistaken belief of facts, then you can defend against a criminal charge for that reason. However, if you did something based on your mistaken belief in the law, then at least in Ohio, this is not an adequate defense. For example, if you took someone’s Rolex because you thought that it was yours, then you have not committed theft. However, if you meant to permanently deprive someone of their Rolex because you hate their guts, you won’t get anywhere by arguing that you didn’t know that what you did was against the law.
Bad Facts And Alibis
Speaking of mistakes, it is possible that a prosecutor charges you with an offense that was actually committed by someone else instead. Not surprisingly, you can defend on the basis of mistaken identity. If the prosecutor uses a witness’s testimony as evidence of your identity, then you could undermine that witness’s credibility. Similar to My Cousin Vinny, you could challenge the witness’s credibility by showing that their impaired vision precluded them from making a positive identification. An experienced Ohio Criminal Lawyer will know how to shred the credibility of adverse witnesses.
You might also be able to argue that it was not factually possible for you to have done what the prosecutor accuses you of. For example, if the prosecutor claims that you were in Cleveland at 9:00 P.M. on the very day that you checked into your local gym in Columbus at 9:05 P.M., then you could rely upon the gym’s evidence of your whereabouts to show that it was not possible for you to have gone from Cleveland to Columbus in five minutes. Your alibi – which is evidence that you were elsewhere – could consist of records or even statements made by people who knew of your whereabouts on the day in question.
Duress And Entrapment
Perhaps you knew that you were breaking the law; however, you did so because of being pressured by another person who placed you in fear of serious harm or death if you did not comply and where you had no reasonable way to escape. In Ohio, this is known as duress. For example, suppose that you are in the parking lot of a bank when you are confronted by a robber who shows you his gun and is threatening to kill you if you don’t immediately rob the bank. Because of this, you rob the bank and are arrested shortly afterward. You could defend against a criminal charge in this situation on the grounds that you thought that you would be killed if you did not comply and you had no way out of this jam.
Alternatively, let’s say that you meet with a person, who unbeknownst to you, is an undercover police officer who urges or coerces you into buying cocaine. You take up the opportunity presented to you by the undercover officer and are promptly arrested and charged for felony possession. You might be able to defend on the basis of entrapment. This basically means that the officer caused you to commit an offense that you would not have likely committed without their influence.
Misconduct By Police Including The Violation Of Your Constitutional Rights
There are all types of things that police might do before, during, and after your arrest which could raise serious questions about whether they violated your constitutional rights. Most commonly, constitutional rights violations come up when police illegally search you and your property.
Police must have a reasonable basis (known as probable cause) to get a search warrant. A search or seizure warrant – which is written permission from a judge – must be supported by an affirmation or oath that describes the place being searched and the property to be taken. So, if police have a warrant for your next-door neighbor, they aren’t allowed to just barge into your home instead and arrest you for cocaine possession. If an arrest warrant is issued by a judge, this does not give police free rein to search your home up and down looking for anything illegal.
Warrants have limits, and those limits are sometimes violated by the police. In cases where police don’t have the proper justification to conduct a search, then any evidence that they obtain from a bad search can’t be used against you at trial because it would constitute a violation of your Fourth Amendment right against illegal searches and seizures. Other types of police misconduct include violations of your Miranda rights, lying during testimony or in police reports, or evidence tampering.
Relatedly, in order for police to stop and frisk you, they must first have a reasonable suspicion of you committing an actual or potential crime. If you are seemingly armed and dangerous to the police, then they are allowed to conduct a reasonable search of your body for deadly weapons. If you are not perceived as armed and dangerous to the police, then they must first have probable cause to search you. Put more simply, a police officer can’t just randomly decide to pull you over and conduct a search of your car all willy-nilly. Rather, to pull you over, they must reasonably suspect that you violated a traffic law. To search your car, the police must have probable cause, not merely a reasonable suspicion. Otherwise, it is likely an unlawful search that you could challenge.
When You Are Justified For Committing The Act
In Ohio, you might not challenge the prosecutor as to whether you committed the act but instead, defend on the grounds that your alleged offense was justified or reasonable given the circumstances. A simple hypothetical situation to consider is that you're a senior citizen who had to use your walking cane for self-defense against a younger attacker; you shouldn't face assault charges because your use of force was justified. If you have proper justification for committing the act, then you should be acquitted of the offense that you are charged with.
You Acted In Self-Defense
You might be able to argue that you acted in self-defense, which comes into play when you are accused of any violent crime such as aggravated assault or murder. However, in order for this defense to work, you have to show that you or someone you protected was in imminent fear of serious harm or death which led you to use force against the attacker. Keep in mind that the amount of force that you use has to be proportionate to the force used against you. For example, it is perfectly legal for you to swat away the hand of a drunk person who is just trying to slap you; however, you don’t have the right to kill them.
Moreover, you can’t rely on self-defense as a justification for killing someone when you were merely protecting your property. So, if your neighbor stole your Trump 2020 or Biden 2020 sign from your property, you wouldn't have been able to execute them. However, if they stole your Trump or Biden sign before charging at you with a spiked bat, then shooting them in self-defense is legal as you would be protecting yourself rather than property alone. Also, in Ohio, you don’t have to retreat if someone intrudes in your home, vehicle, or business. You could use force to defend yourself rather than flee. However, if you are in someone else’s home, vehicle or business, then you can’t use force against an intruder unless it isn’t feasible for you to escape.
You Acted Out Of Necessity
If you are placed in harm’s way by a natural or physical force, then your path to safety might involve the commission of an offense. However, in order to prove that it was necessary for you to do what you did, you have to show that the harm to you was imminent and that the harm you avoided was at least equal to, if not greater than, the offense that you are charged with. Not only that, but you have to show that you were not at fault for causing the situation to occur. For example, if your spouse needs life-saving medical attention, then you might be inclined to break a few traffic laws in the process of driving your spouse to the hospital. You might admit to knowingly breaking those laws but nevertheless, defend on the grounds of necessity.
You Were Intoxicated
Perhaps you commit an offense after being drugged or forced to drink a copious amount of alcohol. Maybe you took a prescription that had an unintended side effect of causing you to lose control of your judgment. In either of these situations, you cannot have formed the intent necessary to commit a criminal offense. However, if you voluntarily drank to the point of oblivion and this led you to commit a criminal offense, then this defense does not apply.
You Didn’t Know Right From Wrong
You might be found not guilty of an offense by reason of insanity. Each state has its own rules on insanity defenses. In Ohio, your lawyer will basically have to show that you did not know right from wrong because of your mental disease or defect. For example, your lawyer and medical experts might argue that you did not know that killing your spouse was wrong. In Ohio, you have the burden of proof as to an insanity defense – and each case is highly fact-specific. If you prevail with respect to an insanity defense, you still might be sentenced to a mental institution.
You Abandoned Or Withdrew From Committing The Act
In Ohio, it is illegal to attempt to commit certain criminal offenses. In fact, some offenses like attempted murder can carry a life sentence. You might realize prior to fully carrying out a criminal offense that what you are doing is wrong. If you come to your senses and abandon your efforts to commit the offense, then you might be able to defend on the grounds of abandonment.
You Had Consent Or Authorization
There are certain acts that you might commit that would ordinarily be construed as a crime but are not because you had consent. For example, you and a friend might agree to box each other to see who the better fighter is. If you knock your friend’s teeth out in the first round, you should not be thrown in jail for assault because your friend agreed, or consented, to boxing you. Similarly, if two adults have consensual sex, then this consent would negate a rape charge. However, in some situations, consent is no defense, such as when you are an adult and have consensual sex with a person under the age of 16 who you are not married, in which case it is considered statutory rape in Ohio.
Statute of Limitations
Aside from a murder charge, prosecutors only have so much time to bring a criminal action against you. This limitation on time is called the statute of limitations. Specifically, long delays between the alleged commission of the crime and the corresponding prosecution could ultimately hamper your ability to defend yourself. In Ohio, for minor misdemeanor offenses, the statute of limitation is six months. For general misdemeanors, it is two years. However, for felonies such as kidnapping, sexual battery, arson, robbery, felonious assault, and manslaughter, it is 20 years. The clock starts ticking when the prosecutor knows or should have known that you committed a crime. Charges of fraud or breach of fiduciary duty typically have to be brought by a prosecutor within one year of discovering the offense.
Your Fifth Amendment rights protect you from being tried twice for the same offense when you have been acquitted of that offense in a prior trial. This protection also applies to second prosecutions for the same offense if you have been convicted of that offense. However, it is not always clear whether the prior offense and the new offenses are one and the same. If a prior offense has different requirements for you to be found guilty than with a new offense, and both offenses are similar, then you might be tried twice based on roughly the same set of facts. Moreover, a federal prosecutor might charge you with violating federal law while the State of Ohio might charge you with violating a state law based on the same set of facts. Both the federal and state law could be remarkably similar; however, they are not the same offense which means that double jeopardy would not apply.
When The Case Against You Is Weak
Sometimes prosecutors present a case that is borderline meritless. The prosecutor might have some circumstantial evidence against you but little direct evidence, if any, that suggests that you committed the offense. The prosecutor’s witnesses might be unreliable or unpersuasive.
Keep in mind that with any criminal offense, the prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you are guilty of the alleged offense. It is not enough for the prosecutor to show that more likely than not, you committed an alleged criminal offense. Rather, they have to show that you did it without question. This makes sense because, after all, we don’t want to throw innocent people behind bars based merely on a hunch. Exposing the prosecution’s weak case should create doubt in the mind of the jury. If the jury is not firmly convinced that you committed the criminal offense, then this should result in your acquittal.
For more information, check out these defenses to criminal charges, and remember to get in touch with an Ohio criminal defense lawyer if you need help.
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