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“Excuse” Defenses to Assault and Battery

“Excuse" Defenses to Assault and Battery: Explained by a Fairfax Criminal Lawyer

Excuse defenses relate to the defendant’s state of mind. Generally, an excuse is an action that the criminal justice system recognizes as harmful but forgivable.

Three types of excuses discussed below are:

  • Duress;
  • Entrapment; and
  • Infancy, Insanity, etc.

Duress Excuse

Duress is an excuse that applies in limited, specific circumstances. A defendant must be able to show his or her criminal actions were the

product of threats inducing a reasonable fear of immediate death or serious bodily injury.1

If you believe your charge should be excused by duress, then your local defense attorney may be able to explain why you may or may not be correct.

Entrapment Excuse

The term, “entrapment," is familiar to many non-lawyers because it gets used quite frequently in television shows and movies…but the way it is used in stories or fictional dramatic productions is often legally inaccurate.

Entrapment is a defense and excuse to a crime if the crime charged was brought about by:

  • planning and conception by a law enforcement officer, and
  • the person who is charged would not have otherwise committed the crime, absent: “trickery, persuasion, or fraud" on the part of the officer.2

Entrapment is not always a viable defense/excuse, for example, if the person charged is “predisposed." If you are unsure whether you were or are “predisposed," or are curious as to whether or not the facts surrounding your case, arrest, or charge may allow for a valid entrapment defense, your criminal law attorney can explain why you may or may not be right.

Infancy and Insanity Excuse

In the United States of America, most crimes give rise to criminal liability only if the actor possesses a specific mental state of mind. Depending on the crime, the state of mind requirement may be that the offense was committed intentionally, knowingly, recklessly, or negligently. Some crimes are “strict liability" offenses (meaning there is no mental state requirement), but not many.

Consider the mental ability and comprehension level of a typical infant. Even if an infant does something that would be criminal, it would not be “socially just" for society to punish that infant, because he/she could not be expected to have any conception as to what it is they did. In a similar fashion, those deemed legally insane are not considered justified in committing a crime, but they may be excused.

Additional resources provided by the author

[1] Pancoast v. Commonwealth
[2] Stamper v. Commonwealth

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