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What is an affirmative defense to pending criminal charges?

On Behalf of | Feb 6, 2024 | Criminal Defense

Someone who has been accused of breaking the law in Virginia may desperately hope to avoid a criminal conviction. Depending on the accusations that they face, the potential penalties for an infraction could range from fines and probation to a long time in state custody.

Those who decide to defend against criminal allegations in Virginia usually have a few different options. Some people challenge the legality of an arrest or the way that police officers conducted a search. Other times, someone’s defense strategy might focus on providing an alibi or raising questions about how the state analyzed evidence.

In scenarios where the state has compelling evidence, a defendant might work with a lawyer to craft an affirmative defense. What does an affirmative defense usually entail?

Affirmative defenses reframe an incident

Someone trying to mount an affirmative defense does not seek to prove that another party was at fault for an incident or that they were somewhere else at the time of a crime. Instead, the goal is to establish that what transpired is not technically a crime because of certain extenuating circumstances.

One of the most common affirmative defense claims made in Virginia involves convincing the courts that someone acted in self-defense. Although it is generally illegal to harm another person physically, it is legal to do so when people feel it is necessary to use force to protect themselves, their property or other people.

Some people might claim that they acted under duress. For example, someone who believes that a criminal has taken a family member hostage might commit crimes under the instructions of the kidnapper. They would not be fully culpable for their own actions because they committed those crimes while under duress.

Depending on the charges the state pursues, there are numerous different affirmative defense strategies possible. Someone who cannot realistically raise questions about their involvement in a crime could potentially convince the Virginia criminal courts that they did not intend to break the law but rather acted in a certain way due to circumstances outside of their control, as permitted by law.