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Defenses to Federal Crimes

Being charged with a federal crime can be overwhelming and scary. Federal felony cases often follow indictment by a grand jury, meaning the prosecution team has already collected a great deal of evidence against you. In a federal case, there is also little time between when you are charged and when you go to trial. You need a defense attorney who can act swiftly and aggressively on your behalf to protect your rights and freedom. With compassion and over 30 years of experience, Seth P. Chazin provides the thorough, assertive defense you need to fight federal charges. 

Below is a breakdown of defenses that can be used before and during trial to secure the best possible outcome for you in federal court if charged with a federal crime.

Pre-Trial Defenses

Discovering that you are the subject of a federal criminal investigation can be one of the most stressful moments of your life. Before formal charges are filed, there are steps you can take to protect your innocence and freedom. Learn more about your options and proactive defense measures here.


You may plead insanity if, as a result of severe mental disease or defect, you were unable to comprehend the wrongfulness of a criminal action (United States vs. John W. Hinckley; 672 F.2d 115 (D.C. Cir. 1982)). This can be supported by raising the defense of automatism.

Public Authority

You may use the public authority defense if you can show that you participated in covert activity on behalf of a law enforcement official or federal intelligence agency (United States v. Fox; 248 F.3d 394, 408 (5th Cir. 2001)). You must be able to provide the law enforcement or federal intelligence agency involved, as well as the agency member on whose behalf you acted.

Entrapment by Estoppel

You may argue entrapment by Estoppel if a government official has actively misled you into a reasonable belief that the criminal conduct you have been charged with is legal (United States v. Uresti-Careaga; 281 F. App'x 404, 405 (5th Cir. 2008)).

Vindictive and Selective Prosecution

You are protected from prosecutors who would seek to punish you for exercising, or attempting to exercise, a constitutional right (Blackledge v. Perry, 417 U.S. 21, 25 (1974)). Vindictive prosecution may involve a prosecutor adding a charge after you withdraw from a plea bargain or indicting you on a new charge after mistrial has occurred. You should not be held criminally liable for an action if a prosecutorial team is discriminating against you.

Outrageous Government Conduct

A claim of outrageous government conduct, also referred to as the “Due Process Defense,” asserts that the government has obtained incriminating evidence in violation of due process (United States v. Russell, 411 U.S. 423, 432 (1973)). You have a constitutional right to substantive due process, and should not be held criminally liable if the government denies you this right. If the claim of outrageous government conduct is successful, the defense may bar prosecution and have your indictment dismissed. An example of this is when a government investigative agency negages in criminal or highly unethical conduct in an effort to get someone to commit a crime, so they can then arrest them.


If an improper venue has been chosen, you may argue that the court should dismiss your case because it is in an undesirable or unconstitutional location (United States v. Carreon-Palacio, 267 F.3d 381, 390–91 (5th Cir. 2001); U.S. CONST. art. III, § 2, cl. 3). For example, if your case has been widely reported in newspapers, it may be difficult to find an impartial jury, and you are able to request a change of venue. Usually, the court will move a case to a more appropriate venue, but it is possible to have a case dismissed.

Affirmative Defenses

Even if you committed a criminal act, a solid defense can reduce your sentencing or completely negate your criminal liability. Learn more about your options during trial below.


If you were not present at the time when, or at the place where, you were alleged to have committed a crime, you can submit an alibi to prove your innocence (People v. Costello , 21 Cal.2d 760). You usually must be able to provide the specific place you were at the time of the alleged offense, as well as contact information for each alibi witness you intend to rely on.

Duress and Necessity

If you were forced to engage in criminal conduct due to threat of violence or actual use of violence, you may argue that you committed the crime under duress (United States v. Bailey, 444 U.S. 394, 409-410 (1980)). Similarly, if there is an emergency situation, not of your own creation, that compels you to act in a criminal manner to avoid greater harm from occurring, you may argue that you committed the crime under necessity (Regina v. Dudley and Stephens; 14 Q.B.D. 273 (Queen's Bench Division. 1884)). This defense is available to you if there was a threat of death or serious bodily harm, if the threat was immediate, and if there were no reasonable alternative to committing the crime.

Defense of self, others, and property

If you engage in what might normally be seen as criminal conduct as a result of attempting to defend yourself or another person from an unlawful assault, you are shielded under the law and you may assert self defense or defense of others as an affirmative defense at trial.  Under certain circumstances, you may also assert the affirmative defense of defense of property if someone is attempting to steal, encroach on or destroy your property. (United State v. Montoya, 676 F.2d 428, 432 (10th Cir. 1982)).You should not be held criminally liable when lawfully protecting yourself or your loved ones. See the Violent Crimes section for further information about this area.

Voluntary Intoxication

If you were intoxicated at the time you committed a crime, you may be able to argue ‘diminished capacity,' which asserts that you didn't have the capacity to form the necessary intent to commit the crime (United States v. Caples, 391 F.2d 1018, 1022–23 (5th Cir.1968)). This can result in a significant reduction of your sentence or even an acquittal. See also Drug Crimes.

Abandonment and Withdrawal

If you completely and voluntarily withdraw from a criminal act prior to its completion, you may be able to escape liability for that crime (United States v. Buttrick, 432 F.3d 373, 377 (1st Cir. 2005)). 


If a government official or agent, such as a federal agent (FBI, ICE, DEA, etc.) or police officer, has harassed or coerced you into committing a crime, you may not be held liable for that crime (United States v. Reyes, 239 F.3d 722, 739 (5th Cir. 2001)). Entrapment describes a situation in which a crime occurred because of pressure from a law enforcement official.

Specific Intent Defenses

Often, thee prosecution's case against you relies on their ability to prove that you intentionally and willfully carried out a criminal act. Below are defenses you can use to prove a lack of intent and help reduce your criminal liability.


Automatism occurs when a behavior is enacted during a state of unconsciousness, mental dissociation, or lack of full awareness (Government of the Virgin Islands v. Smith, 278 F.2d 169, 173 (3d Cir. 1960)). For example, you would not bear responsibility if you had carried out a crime while sleepwalking. Automatism can also be used to support an insanity defense.

Negating Mens Rea

“Mens rea” is Latin for guilty mind and refers to a defendant's mental state during the commission of a crime. If you did not commit a crime knowingly, maliciously, or willfully, your liability for that crime decreases, and your charges may either be dismissed or reduced  (United States v. Roberts, 887 F.2d 534, 536 (5th Cir. 1989)).

Good Faith

Good faith is a defense against charges of fraud (United States v. Kimmel, 777 F.2d 290, 293 (5th Cir. 1985)). The government must prove that you acted with specific intent to defraud an individual or business; if unable to prove your intent or willfulness, you are presumed to have acted in good faith, and are not criminally liable. (see also: Fraud & Embezzlement).

Advice of Counsel

If you did not intentionally violate the law because you sought advice of counsel prior to acting and acted on that advice, you may not be held fully liable for the criminal conduct (United States v. Ragsdale, 426 F.3d 765, 777–78 (5th Cir. 2005)).

Additional Defenses at Trial


Misidentification occurs when an eyewitness deliberately or mistakenly identifies you as the perpetrator of a crime (Foster v. California, 394 U.S. 440 (1969)). Misidentification is common, whether due to the fallibility of memory or racial bias in policing and eyewitness accounts. Finding evidence of eyewitness misidentification can be essential to dismissing your case and preserving your innocence.

Lack of Intent

If you committed an act involuntarily or did not intend for a certain consequence to occur, you may be able to raise a defense of lack of intent (Enmund v. Florida, 458 U.S. 782 (1982)). This is not always a complete defense, as sometimes you can still be held liable for reckless behavior, but it can result in a significant reduction of your sentence under certain circumstances.

False Accusation

If you believe you are being falsely accused of a crime, you must aggressively fight the charges to protect your innocence and your future. By providing an alibi or by attacking witness credibility, you can defend yourself against false accusations and a potentially unfair criminal conviction.

Are you the subject of federal investigation or have you been charged with a federal crime? Protect your rights and your freedom. Contact criminal defense attorney Seth P. Chazin online or call immediately at 1-800-499-9902 to start planning your defense strategy for your federal case.


“The death penalty is a lie, a misguided mistake born of anger and frustration. Capital punishment has become a perverse monument to inequality, to how some lives matter and others do not. It is a violent example of how we protect and value the rich and abandon and devalue the poor. The death penalty is a grim, disturbing shadow formed by the legacy of racial apartheid and bias against the poor that condemns the disfavored among us, but corrupts us all. It’s the perverse symbol elected officials use to strengthen their ‘tough on crime’ reputations and distract us from confronting the causes of violence. It is finally the enemy of grace, redemption and all of us who recognize that each person is more than their worse act.”
- Bryan Stevenson