Mistake of fact, like voluntary intoxication, is not really a defense to a criminal charge. However, it works to limit criminal liability on the ground that the defendant was operating based on an incorrect assumption. To understand how this defense is used, we can look at an example. Let’s say that your dog got away in the middle of the night and you accidentally brought someone else’s dog home from the park. This could easily be a mistake of fact because both of your dogs looked almost identical and you sincerely thought that it was your dog. However, the court would have to assume that your mistake was honest and reasonable given the circumstances.
There is also something known as “mistake of law,” which goes hand in hand with mistake of fact. This is when you are mistakes or ignorant about a law that you didn’t actually know anything about. Let’s say that you didn’t know that you had to come to a complete stop at a stop sign when there are no other cars at the intersection because you have been taught differently. You may try to argue that you didn’t understand the law. Most of the time this will not be viable as a defense. However, it can be a defense is the law has not been published, if you had to rely on a judicial decision, or if a statute turned out to be unconstitutional.
Under Wilson v. Tard, the defendant’s intent is under scrutiny because it will become the question that the prosecution must prove in order to convict them of the crime. There is a burden of proof for the prosecution to prove beyond a reasonable doubt.
If you have been arrested and are facing criminal charges, you may have questions. Perhaps you truly made an honest mistake and believe that you should not be charged for the crime. Call us today for more information on how we can aid you and how this defense could affect your case.