3

Hypothetical scenario: A victim is identified with documented injuries consistent with having been struck with a weapon. The police find and charge a person (now "Defendant") that they claim perpetrated the act of striking the victim with a weapon. This Defendant stands trial for the crime of "Assault."

Common Law provides a number of Criminal Defenses that could be raised in this scenario (e.g., Self Defense, Duress). However, in order to raise such a defense the Defendant would have to effectively confess to the Assault (or at least some critical elements of it). E.g., a Defendant can't argue, "I feared for my life" without, in effect, admitting that he was present and capable of striking the victim.

Can the Defense require that the fact-finder in a trial (typically a jury) rule on prefatory facts, before it finishes the defense?

In this hypothetical, it seems prejudicial (and something like a violation of a Defendant's fifth-amendment right to not witness against himself) to require that the Defendant admit that he was present at the scene of the crime in order to invoke a defense.

It seems more consistent with the principles of our legal system to allow the Defense to require the Prosecution to first prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the Defendant was at the scene of the crime. Because if the Prosecution can't meet that hurdle, then that's the end of the trial.

In practice is it possible for the Defense to avoid presenting affirmative defenses (like Self Defense) before the Court has found beyond a reasonable doubt that the Defendant committed the crime? If so: How?

If not: Is there some theory or principle that illuminates why this is not considered a violation of the Defendant's fifth-amendment rights?

3

Can defense request findings of fact before resting? Is it possible for the Defense to avoid presenting affirmative defenses (like Self Defense) before the Court has found beyond a reasonable doubt that the Defendant committed the crime? If so: How?

No, no and not applicable.

A verdict is a singular declaration by the jury (or judge) that the state has or has not proved their case.

Affirmative Defence

These are all affirmative defenses which defeat or mitigate the consequences of the unlawful conduct and the onus of proof lies with the Defence, not the Prosecution. An affirmative defence must be pleaded in a timely manner.

If the Prosecution fails in their burden to prove the unlawful conduct the affirmative defence does not get engaged. This is a threshold decision point for the trier of fact and the judge should so instruct the jury.

Of necessity, affirmative defences require some admission of fact, however, these facts may not be in contention anyway. Where they are in contention, it requires a strategic choice by the defendant as to whether to use the affirmative defence or not.

Is there some theory or principle that illuminates why this is not considered a violation of the Defendant's fifth-amendment rights?

Because the defendant is not compelled to make these defences.

  • 2
    Indeed, there are two affirmative defenses: self-defense and alibi that, in many jurisdictions, must be raised by the defense before the prosecution commences their case in chief in order to be raised at all at trial, because these affirmative defenses dramatically change the nature of the facts that the prosecution must establish at trial. – ohwilleke Feb 26 at 4:36
  • 2
    @ohwilleke I believe an insanity plea must also be entered early – Dale M Feb 26 at 4:44
  • 1
    You are correct. – ohwilleke Feb 26 at 4:51
  • 1
    It should be pointed out that Affirmitive Defenses have a lower burden of proof threshold than Conviction of Guilt in a Crime, so the Prosecution still has a lot more work than the Defense (all things being equal). For example, in the George Zimmerman Trial, neither side was able to prove who started the fight between Zimmerman and Travon Martin, but the Defense was able to prove that shooting occurred after the physical assaults had begun.+ – hszmv Feb 26 at 14:08
  • 1
    An Insanity Defense hinges on whether the defendant's mental health impacted his knowledge of right and wrong (rather than solely if he was suffering from mental health issues). In the Jeffery Dalmer Case, the Prosection used the numerous ways Dalmer had taken steps to conceal his murders to argue that Dalmer while Dalmer did have some major health issues, he knew full well his actions were wrong at the time he committed the acts (read the details at your own risk... Dalmer was a very nasty serial killer). – hszmv Feb 26 at 14:12

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.