Legally speaking, “mistake of fact” refers to a person misunderstanding something as fact and committing a criminal action as a result. It can be a valid defense in situations in which if the mistaken fact were true, it would negate a mental state that is an essential part of the crime. Does this mean any mistake is a defense? No – the judge and / or jury must find the mistake to be reasonable and it must negate a required specific intent.
Keep reading to learn about situations in which mistake of fact can be used as a valid defense. To find out if it is the right defense for your case, contact a criminal defense attorney by calling Law Office of Michael L. Fell at (949) 585-9055.
Example 1: Bringing the Wrong Dog Home
For our first example, imagine a man who takes his dog to the dog park every day. One day, he loses sight of his dog. When he finds his dog, he puts on the dog’s leash and walks him home. Once he gets home he realizes that the collar is different. It has a different name. The man in question realizes that he has mistakenly brought the wrong dog home. This is not a valid theft crime because when he took the dog home, he made a reasonable mistake – both dogs look very similar.
Example 2: A Similar Story with a Twist
In the above example, the man in question brought home a dog that looked very similar to his own dog. But what if the dogs were very different? For example, if the man’s dog was a pit bull and he brought home a poodle, would he be able to argue mistake of fact?
It depends. There is no question that most people would consider this to be an unreasonable mistake – the dogs look for very different. That said, if it can be proven that it was indeed a mistake – or if the prosecution cannot prove that it was not a mistake – then the case may not move forward. Why? Because intent is an important element of proving a theft case. Likewise, the prosecution must prove that the defendant intended to permanently deprive the owner of their dog.
Is Mistake of Fact the Right Defense for Your Case?
Maybe it is and maybe it isn’t – it depends on a lot of factors. What we can tell you is that the best way to find the best defense is to contact Law Office of Michael L. Fell at (949) 585-9055 for a free legal consultation. We can go over your case, consider the evidence, and give you a general idea of how we can defend you. No matter the situation, there are options – and they all start with working with an experienced criminal defense attorney.