In most Texas cases, ignorance of the law will not help you as any kind of defense strategy. There are a few circumstances where we can use “mistake of law as a valid defense, but only in cases where you relied upon a written, official statement from an administrative agency, public official, or a court of record to guide your actions.
The “mistake of law” defense is covered by Texas Penal Code section 8.03.
It’s also covered by Article I, Section 19 of the Texas Constitution, which prohibits the government from affirmatively misleading people about their procedural rights and then blaming them for not knowing better.
There are a few similar defenses.
For example, the involuntary intoxication defense is a defense used when being drugged or tricked into taking an intoxicating substance and then commits a criminal act under the influence of that substance. This isn’t necessarily an easy defense to prove, but it does remain an option.
There is also a defense for duress; if someone threatens your life or threatens violence against you and then forces you to commit a crime then the defense may work on your behalf. For example if someone puts a gun to your head and forces you to serve as the getaway driver in a robbery then you’ve got a pretty good defense against being charged as an accomplice in that robbery.
There are also several crimes where criminal intent, or “mens rea,” makes a difference.
Many fraud and theft cases hinge on whether you had any intent to steal or defraud another person or party. Mistakenly leaving a store with something in the bottom of your shopping cart or making a mistake on a loan application are usually not enough to get you convicted of theft or fraud in Texas. In many cases your defense is the affirmative “mistake of fact” defense. In a mistake of fact defense, the actor must have formed a reasonable but mistaken belief about the situation at hand.
You may have genuinely been unaware that you were breaking the law at the time that it happened, yet you will need to work with your defense attorney to come up with a better strategy for defending your criminal case.
You should also keep in mind that plenty of legal systems allow the state to use your ignorance of the law or your rights against you, whether to obtain a false confession or to obtain some other edge that can lead you to getting arrested or convicted.
No matter why you did what you did, your best bet is to assert your right to remain silent and then to reach out to our criminal law office to get help.
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