Understanding Colorado’s “Mistake of Fact” Defense

In a Colorado criminal case, one or more possible defenses may come into play. One pair of defenses that are related is the defense of “mistake of fact” and “mistake of law.” Although these defenses often do not apply to a particular case, they may apply if the legal conditions for using either defense are met.

A “mistake of fact” occurs when the person charged with a crime only acted because he or she thought the conduct was legal – but turned out to be wrong about that. Usually, mistake of fact is not a defense to a criminal charge in Colorado, unless:

  • the mistake of fact negates the state of mind required to commit the crime,
  • the statute that prohibits the criminal behavior specifies that a mistake of fact is a defense to being charged under the statute, or
  • the mistake of fact supports a justification defense.

Two “justification” defenses that are often supported by a mistake of fact defense are choice of evils and self-defense. In both situations, a person breaks one criminal law to prevent another, more serious harm from taking place. A mistake of fact might support one of these defenses if, for example, the charged person only acted because they thought that by doing so, their act would prevent a more serious harm – only to find out after the fact they were wrong.

Understanding criminal charges and possible defenses can be confusing, but you don’t have to navigate them alone. Contacting an experienced Colorado criminal defense attorney like the team at The Bussey Law Firm, P.C. is key to building the best possible defense against any criminal charges you may face. Contact us today at (719) 475-2555 for a confidential consultation.

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