10 Different Types of Criminal Defense Lawyers

Gavel with stand and handcuffs on the wooden background.

If you’re charged with a criminal offense, selecting the right criminal defense attorney can be a challenging task, yet it is also the most crucial one. You should definitely seek legal advice, no matter how minor the charge. Even if you don’t hire a criminal defense lawyer, be sure to at least consult one so that you understand the legal implication.

The attorney would enlighten you on the available defense, your rights to the plea, as well as the steps you should take if you are convicted.

Should you decide to hire or consult a criminal defense lawyer, first consider the law you’ve been accused of breaking. While most criminal defense lawyers handle routine defense cases, some of them focus on particular areas.

Search for a lawyer who specializes in the specific area of defense relevant to you. Specialized lawyers are often willing to dedicate more time and effort learning and dealing with cases at hand.

Whether you’re studying to become a lawyer, hire or consult one. Several different types of criminal defense lawyers exist, depending upon the nature of criminal defenses they specialize in.

Let’s learn about the most common types:

Self-DefenseSelf-defense is a right of Americans

Self-defense cases are used to prove that the defendants’ actions were essential to protect themselves or others from harm. The fundamental idea behind this type of criminal defense is that people have the right to protect themselves, their family or friends and their fellow citizens.

A self-defense lawyer examines the case by learning to dig into the aggressor, the reasonableness of the defendant’s belief that they were in danger, and whether the defendant’s action is justified. To warrant a self-defense plea, the defendant does not necessarily have to be attacked first. A mere threat of assault can be considered as a sufficient excuse for the defendant to strike first.

However, two aspects are critical to self-defense cases: the threat must be real and reasonable which is determined by the context i.e. the style of communication, the degree of advancements and other considerations. Secondly, despite a genuine threat, the defendant’s response should be reasonable. An unreasonably violent reaction won’t excuse the defendant.

Same is applicable when the defendant acts to protect someone else, such as a child, a family member or even a stranger. For instance, someone physically assaults another passenger in a bus and a third person intervenes and uses force to protect the victim. Given that the use of force was reasonable, the defendant would likely be excused as a defense-of-others defense.

InsanityDoctor checking mental health of person

The insanity defense is the sort of defense extensively featured in movies and dramas in court proceedings involving criminal cases. Surprisingly, they’re hardly used in real-life scenarios.

Insanity defense seeks to establish that either the defendant was unable to differentiate between right and wrong at the time of the offense or that he or she was faced with an ‘irresistible impulse’ to commit the crime. The latter option means that the defendant had no way to stop despite knowing that they were committing a crime.

There are several reasons why the insanity defense is rarely used in real-life criminal cases. Firstly, it is classified as an affirmative defense which means that the defendants must prove that, beyond a reasonable doubt, they were in a state of a severe psychological disorder or illness at the time the crime was committed.

Moreover, insanity defense cases initially require the defendants to admit that they committed the crime. Only after this confession can they proceed with providing evidence of mental disease. This means that the final verdict solely depends on whether the defendant is successfully able to prove his point on insanity. If he fails to convince the jury, his confessions are enough to give the prosecution an easy win.

In addition, even if the defendant proves that they weren’t in the right state of mind while committing the offense, the most likely result would be institutionalization, isolating the defendant for an unforeseen period.


The criminal defense of intoxication applies to cases in which defendants do not realize the implications of their conduct or words because they are intoxicated. There are a lot of limitations pertaining to the use of this defense. One important consideration is whether the intoxication was voluntary or involuntary.

Plus, the level of intent required by the criminal charge is another aspect. Let’s check separately how this defense is available for voluntary and involuntary intoxication

Involuntary Intoxication

When someone is tricked or forced to consume alcohol or a drug, it is referred to as involuntary intoxication. If this intoxication results in a specific intent crime, the defendant must prove that the intoxication prevented him or her from forming the intent to commit the crime.

For instance, a woman tricks a man by placing a drug in his coffee that spurs sex appeal and he ends up sexually assaulting her.  The woman then accuses him of attempted rape. The man can use the intoxication defense claiming that he was unknowingly intoxicated which prevented him from forming the intent to commit rape and that he failed to understand what he was doing.

Involuntary intoxication can also function in a similar manner as an insanity defense. This is possible when the crime is not a specific intent crime, but a general intent crime. The defendant, in this scenario, should be able to establish that the involuntary intoxication caused him or her to lose the ability to differentiate between right and wrong, for instance, a man who is not in the right state of mind after involuntary consumption of a drug.

Involuntary intoxication also includes cases associated with the effects of a legal prescription drug. In this case, the drug must have resulted in unintended effects or caused an allergy to the defendant.

Voluntary Intoxication

Voluntary intoxication defense is extremely complex as in this case the defendant brought the intoxication upon himself or herself. The current legal standards hold this defense valid for certain specific crimes only, and even in those crimes, it is extremely difficult to establish the defense.

As opposed to involuntary intoxication, voluntary intoxication can never be used to excuse a defendant involved in a general intent crime. When it comes to dealing with the specific intent crime, defendant subject to voluntary intoxication would have to prove that the intoxication prevented him or her from forming the intent to commit the crime.

For instance, someone accused of burglary resulting from voluntary intoxication will be required to prove that he was so intoxicated that he could no longer form the intent to perform burglary.

In addition, defendants who successfully use voluntary intoxication to secure a defense may not completely be able to get away with the charge. The use of voluntary intoxication can serve reduce the overall culpability of the crime so the defendant may have to pay a lesser amount in a penalty or sentenced for a shorter period in prison.

Coercion or Duress

A gun being pointed at an employee while signing a paper.

When someone forces you to commit a crime by threatening you with unlawful force, you should consult a lawyer specialized in Coercion or Duress defense. This criminal defense is another affirmative defense requiring the defendants to admit to committing a crime and separately prove how they were forced into the act.

For valid coercion or duress defense, the unlawful force doesn’t necessarily have to be applied. You can successfully lead a coercion defense following a real threat of unlawful force. Moreover, the unlawful force doesn’t necessarily have to endanger the defendant. It may have posed a threat to someone else, such as a family member or a relative.

However, this defense won’t be fruitful if you ended up in a situation of duress resulting from your own recklessness. For instance, your voluntary and active indulgence in a drug deal led to circumstances that forced you to commit a murder. The use of coercion or duress defense would most likely be denied.

Defense of Necessity

Defense of necessity is the type of criminal defense that attempts to prove that certain extraordinary circumstances led the defendant to commit the crime. The defendant normally states that they had no other choice but to disobey the law.

The criminal law includes a set of principles determining when the defense of necessity justifies criminal conduct like whether the crime was committed to averting a greater evil.

For instance, if you stole a car to drive a gunshot victim to hospital or stole some food to feed a starving individual, you may well be able to prove the necessity. However, if you had stolen the same car to take a vacation or attend a party, the defense would certainly not apply.

According to criminal law, for any action to be deemed as a criminal offense, it is essential that the victim was opposed to the crime. This means that if a defendant is able to prove that they committed the crime with the victim’s consent, it wouldn’t be considered a crime at all.

However, the person whose consent is being considered must also be legally permitted to do so. To use the defense of consent, establishing that an individual consented to the action won’t suffice. The person who is expressing consent must be able to make a reasonable judgment about the conduct. For instance, if the person is underage, facing a psychological disorder, or is intoxicated, the consent won’t be considered valid.

Similarly, the consent won’t be considered valid the person has no authority to express consent. For instance, a person cannot express consent for a crime committed in relation to a neighbor’s property since he has no authority over the property.

Additionally, the consent won’t be considered valid if it was obtained by force or duress. Finally, there are specific cases for which the law doesn’t accept the consents for example, a sexual assault in which the victim is a minor.

Following are some common circumstances in which consent may be considered valid and defense can be successfully accomplished.

Consent may be used as a defense in cases involving physical harm such as assault and battery cases. However, when the victim faces serious injury, the defendant cannot establish the victim’s consent. Moreover, the harm should be considered a reasonable possible outcome of the defendant. Furthermore, to verify the victim’s consent, the conduct must entail some benefit to the victim.

Cases like these emerge in sports that involve physical contacts such as boxing, soccer, and rugby. However, the use of this defense is very rare because of the strict requirements stated above.

The defense of consent is also available to defendants facing the charge of rape or sexual assault. This is when the defendant can prove that the victim was aware of and had no objection to the defendant’s advancements.

Consent can also be used for charges of property crimes such as trespassing. In such cases, the victim should have either expressed his consent or implied it in some way. Naturally, proving that the consent was implied is much more difficult.

Mistake of Fact

In criminal law, when defendants were unaware of a fundamental fact and this led to them committing the crime, they can make use of mistake of fact defense. While this defense considers the ignorance of the fact, it doesn’t hold valid for ignorance of the law.

A simple example in which a mistake defense would be considered valid is when someone mistakenly steals a car that resembled his own.

This defense also incorporates mistakes pertaining to fraud or embezzlement cases. If someone is charged with embezzlement in which the defendant was given authority over someone else’s property and mistakenly think that they were permitted to bring it to personal use, it would make a valid mistake defense.

However, if the defendant knew that the authority doesn’t permit any use of the property and started using it with the intent to permanently deprive the owner of the property, the defense can’t be used against the embezzlement charge.

Abandonment and Withdrawal

Abandonment and withdrawal is the criminal defense that arises when the defendant denies their involvement in a crime because they decided to abandon or withdraw from the act before it happened.

Again, this is an affirmative defense as the defendant can’t simply rely on challenging the evidence of the prosecutor. The defendant must separately provide evidence of clear abandonment or withdrawal from criminal conduct.

In most cases, the defendant can walk free by showing that they stopped participating in the offense prior to its completion. They must show that their conduct, by no means, contributed to the ultimate execution of the criminal activity, nor had any effect on the success of the crime. Moreover, this defense may also be used if the defendant can prove that he or she informed the police before the crime was committed.

However, the abandonment defense isn’t as simple as it sounds. Not only does the defendant have to prove the abandonment, but also be able to show that it was don’t voluntarily, not because of the fear of being caught or difficulty that arose in the execution of the crime. The defendant must have withdrawn due to a change of heart with the intent to restrain from the misconduct.

The abandonment and withdrawal defense also applies to the crime conspiracies. However, in such a case, it won’t be enough for the defendant to prove that he or she withdrew from the conspiracy prior to its completion. The defendant must also establish that the withdrawal was clearly communicated to other co-conspirators. Moreover, the defendant can’t use this defense if he or she establishes any sort of contact with any of the co-conspirators after withdrawal.

In some cases, defendants, after withdrawing from the conspiracy, must have tried to stop or prevent the conspiracy from being successful. Since the defendant was partially aware of the goals of the conspiracy, he or she should have taken some action such as inform the police.

Cases involving abandonment and withdrawal are pretty complex. Therefore, it’s recommended to hire a lawyer specialized in this area or at least seek legal advice.


In conclusion, before entering legal proceedings to fight a criminal charge, it is extremely important to recognize the different defenses that can be used against the charges. In spite of having a clear understanding of the defenses, you’d still face issues in their successful use because of the complexities involved. Many of the times, you have the right to attain a plea but not aware of it. Ideally, you should hire a criminal defense lawyer who concentrates on the type of case you’re involved in.

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