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  • Writer's pictureJustin Sparks

What Is the Honest Mistake Rule? - Is This a Good Defense?

Can someone who is being charged with a crime seriously defend themselves by admitting to the action but mentioning they did not know it was against the law? What is the honest mistake rule? Technically, that's exactly what the honest mistake rule stipulates. The defendant has to admit to the offense but mention it was made as an honest and reasonable mistake.

While this is a legitimate way for someone to defend themselves in court after committing a crime, the situation has to be just right for this defense strategy to work.

This good faith exception, as it is also known in the law, is written in the Fourth Amendment. It can also serve as a way for a defendant to gather evidence when a case is dismissed in certain circumstances.

Proving That the Crime Was an Honest & Reasonable Mistake

Proving That the Crime Was an Honest & Reasonable Mistake

The challenge with any defense that's based on honest mistakes is proving that the person had a reasonable belief that what they were doing was not a crime. This person's defense counsel would, in turn, have to imply that their client's action was not made with criminal intent.

People may be surprised just how many scenarios can be argued under this good faith exception. In some cases, a good law defense team can even find tangible evidence to be able to prove there was no criminal intent in the actions of their client.

Here are a couple of examples where the good faith exception can be used as a successful defense.

Examples Where a Crime Could be Dismissed Over an Honest and Reasonable Mistake

Driving with a suspended license is one of the easiest situations to prove no criminal intent in the action. Therefore, the defendant could argue a mistake of fact defense. If the person was not notified by the relevant authorities that their license had been suspended, they would have no way of knowing.

In that particular situation, the person would still have to be detained by police. This defense, based on honest mistakes, could help them avoid heavy fines or even jail time.

Another situation where this good faith law can apply involves people who are not in the required mental state to be able to commit a crime. This defense is typically used in what is known as mens rea offenses. In these cases, the defense team would have to prove that the defendant was not in the mental state required to commit a crime.

People who are caught selling different types of items without the necessary permits could also argue that they believed that they were doing nothing wrong. This type of defense would prove that the person did not have the intent to commit a crime.

In the best-case scenario, they could be found not guilty. They may still be forced to pay fines, but a successful defense with the help of a criminal defense law firm in Fort Worth could see them avoid criminal charges.

Applying This Defense to a Sexual Harassment Case

Mistake of fact defenses have also been used in sexual harassment cases. The person who is being accused of having sexual intercourse with an unwilling party could build a fact defense. They would argue that the other person did, in fact, give them reasons to believe they were consenting to the act.

Having evidence such as text messages or other forms of communication that prove the accused would have reason to believe the act was consensual could go a long way in these cases. Currently, these mistake-of-fact defenses are some of the most commonly used under these circumstances. If the defendant is facing criminal charges over this type of issue, their options for building a solid defense are rather limited.

Evidence Obtained Without a Search Warrant

Evidence Obtained Without a Search Warrant

The honest mistakes law and exclusionary rule that's written in the Fourth Amendment can also be used to protect police officers. Police officers won't necessarily face criminal charges if they conduct a search without a warrant. Under the same "mistake of fact" umbrella, defendants could have the evidence that police uncover dismissed.

Under the Fourth Amendment, people have a right to conceal their property from police and even third parties. That's why defendants could petition to have evidence against them dismissed. Although these situations may not seem relevant as part of the honest mistake rule, they fall under the same legal premise.

Is the Honest Mistake Rule a Valid Base for a Defense Strategy?

This type of defense can be very effective, particularly when there's a mistake that can be proven as reasonable. The defendant should be able to convince a judge and jury that they never intended to commit a crime. As with any defense, having the right evidence to prove that the accused did not intend to commit a crime is key.

When there's enough evidence to back those claims, this type of defense can be as valid as any. The prosecution, for its part, will try to prove that there was intent. As mentioned, in some cases, proving ignorance may not clear the accused of all penalties. Sparks Law Firm can also answer questions like What is the exclusionary rule?

Final Thoughts on the Honest Mistake Rule

To be able to use this law effectively as the basis of a legal argument, the defendant has to truly be able to prove their ignorance, in a sense. In a situation where a person is caught selling certain items without proper permits, it would really benefit to have it be their first time being detained over a similar incident.

When a person gets accused of breaking the same law twice or more, it's going to be incredibly difficult to prove they were not acting with intent. The only reasonable defense in most of those circumstances would be to show that the defendant was not in the right mental state to have committed an actual crime.

Anyone who's thinking about basing their defense on the honest mistake rule could benefit from speaking to an attorney. Many of the top lawyers in the area provide free consultations. The prosecution will likely be building its case early, so anyone facing a trial over a crime that they committed unwillingly should definitely seek the right counsel.


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