The mistake of Fact vs Mistake of Law in Criminal Defense

The mistake of Fact vs Mistake of Law in Criminal Defense

There are situations when a criminal can argue that he or she committed a crime without knowing or having a particular intention. There are two types of mistakes one can ever make the mistake of fact and mistake of law. There are times when people commit a crime without knowing but sometimes to get rid of the legal process one can pretend to unaware of committing a particular crime.


Here, you will get to know about these two types of mistakes in details:


The mistake of fact:

Mistakes of fact appear when a defendant misunderstood or misconceived some facts that nullify an element of the crime. For an example: if someone is accused in the name of larceny but he or she thought that the property rightfully belonged to him or her, this kind of misunderstanding negates any intent to deprive someone’s property. Obviously, you need to keep in mind that this mistake of fact must be honest and reasonable too. So that, the criminal defendant cannot later claim that he or she was mistaken when actually knew that particular situation. Accordingly, the mistake must appear reasonable to the judge or jury.  If the same individual was repeatedly told that the property was not his own but someone else’s then it would no longer be reasonable to be believed that it was his right to the property.


There are certain cases on which the mistake of fact can be applied. One needs to prove that the crime has done unknowingly and after that absolve the defendant of liability. A professional and experienced MA criminal defense Lawyer can save you if you ever into such situation ever in Massachusetts.



The mistake of law:

The mistake of law is a defense that the criminal misunderstood or was just ignorant of the existence of the law. It is one of the responsibilities of a citizen that he or she should aware of the laws of the state or the community from where he or she belongs and as a result of it this defense applies in very specific conditions. For instance, when a criminal defendant will not be able to argue that he was not aware of the fact that murder was a crime but on the other hand, he may claim that he was ignorant of traffic rules.

These mistakes of law can be applied only in 4 different circumstances:

  • When the defendant relied upon an interpretation by an applicable official
  • When the law has not been published
  • When the defendant relied upon law or statute that was later overturned or deemed unconstitutional
  • When the defendant relied upon a judicial decision that was later overruled.

Reliance on these sources must be reasonable in nature so that the defendant cannot claim he was relying on a very old case.

So, now you must have a clear knowledge of the mistakes of fact and mistakes of law and can differentiate the two very well.