A guide to Major Defenses in Criminal Law

Here I will share with you major defenses in criminal law.

With vivid examples, you will see how defenses in criminal law are applicable in criminal cases.

Major Defenses in Criminal Law

Generally, the major defenses in criminal law include intoxication, insanity, mistake of fact, double jeopard, the bonafide claim of right, alibi, and self-defense.

Further defenses in criminal law may be categorized into two forms, there are partial defenses and full defenses.

Partial defenses are defenses that do not exonerate you from liability but may help by reducing punishment or by being convicted with a lesser offense while full defenses are the opposite of partial defenses; they are absolutely exonerating you from criminal liability.

You want to learn how to defend yourself and win any criminal case? read here

Major defenses in criminal law, criminal law defenses

Bonafide Claim of Right

This is the full defense. It applies only to offenses relating to properties example theft, malicious damage to property, etc. it simply entails that you dispose of the property of another person in utmost good faith, honestly and without fraud, in respect, of that property.


You were employed as a house servant by another person. Once you are accused of theft You may defend yourself by admitting that you took clothes from that person room by opening the window and “pole fishing” because that a person had dismissed you from your employment owing you three months wages and that person had failed to pay the wages due to you despite repeated requests, you decided to take his clothes.

To successfully use the bonafide claim of right defense, you must prove to the court that the claims of right were bonafide and the claim was with the honest belief that you are entitled in law to do what you did.

mistake of Fact

This defense may be full or partial depending on the circumstance of your case. It applies to all mistakes of facts but not law.

For example, if you were caught hunting in a restricted area where hunting is illegal and you say that you were not aware that you crossed the boundary from the non – restricted area here you’re pleading mistake of facts. Therefore you may be excused.

To successfully use this defense you must prove to the court that the mistake was honest, reasonable, and mistaken belief.


This defense has a lot of complications because it is an assumption of the law that every person is sane (sound mind) and possesses a sufficient degree of reason to be responsible for his crime until proved otherwise to the approval of the court.

To succeed in this defense you must clearly prove that at the time you committed a crime you suffered a disease of the mind which made you incapable of understanding what you were doing (M’naughten Rule)  as this requires proof from a professional doctor.

This defense operates only as a partial defense. Because once successfully raised it doesn’t lead to the release of the accused but instead, the accused is detained as a criminal lunatic.



Intoxication simply means influenced by drugs or alcohol.

This defense might not serve you if you are a habitual drinker or drug user.

Because to succeed with intoxication defense you must prove to the court that at the time you commit a crime you didn’t know what you did due to the intoxication.

Further, you must prove that your state of intoxication was caused by the carelessness or the bad motive of another person.

The intoxication defense applies in very limited circumstances and typically depends on whether the intoxication was voluntary or involuntary and what level of intent is required by the criminal charge.

This defense is partial.



Compulsion is the act of forcing someone to do what he is not willing to do by using force on him or threatening to use force on him.

For example when robberies enter your home and force you to kill your spouse, To succeed with this defense you must prove that

  1. The threat was instant, immediately, and continued throughout the time of the commission of a crime.
  2. Threats of future injury will not excuse any offense.
  3. The threats were directed to you.

A married woman has a defense of compulsion by her husband if the offense charged is an offense other than murder or treason. Committed to the presence of her husband and is committed under his coercion.

Self-Defense/Defense of a Person

This might be the defense you may like most.

Self-defense allows you to use any reasonable force to defend yourself depending on the nature of the assault or to prevent the commission of a violent offense to another person.

The test which applies in this defense is a ‘reasonable force test’. That means you must use reasonable force once defending yourself.

Example use of a knife to defend yourself from a person who has a knife to harm you is a reasonable force but once you use firearms (pistol) it may be an unreasonable force.

You can use this defense only where there is a possibility of death or grievous harm.

learn more about self-defense here

Isack Kimaro
Isack Kimaro

Editor-in-chief and founder of sherianajamii.com. Holder of Bachelor of Laws (LL.B) and Post Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice. Lawyer by profession and blogger by passion