Criminal Defense Strategies - How to Get a Criminal Case Dismissed

Without an effective defense strategy, a criminal law attorney may cost his client a lengthy incarceration, expensive fines, and a criminal record. To develop an effective strategy, a criminal defense lawyer examines the prosecution’s evidence, the defendant’s story, and their own investigative findings. It is a fluid process of question and answer as the defendant’s story unfolds a version of the truth favorable to a not guilty verdict, lesser charges, or a plea bargain.

A defense strategy rests on the defendant’s innocence or excused guilt. Since the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed a crime, the defense relies on the innocent until proven guilty principle. If innocent, the defense strategy may be based on several approaches:


The defendant was somewhere else when the crime was committed.
Wrong person: The police arrested the wrong person based on false or unreliable witnesses, or the crime scene confusion led to an innocent bystander’s arrest. Acquittal is more likely with no witnesses or physical evidence to link the defendant to a crime.

Circumstantial evidence:

The prosecution has no physical evidence
or eyewitnesses to support its case.
Unreliable witnesses: The witnesses against the defendant are incompetent, lying, or otherwise trustworthy. Witness impairments or multiple defendants at a confused scene may make their testimony suspect. The defense must raise doubts as to witness reliability.

Biased witnesses:

Police often use informant testimony in exchange for criminal immunity or lighter sentences, so it may be biased.

Raising doubt:

Exploiting jury biases against the police who may have a poor reputation in the community, made mistakes gathering and maintaining evidence, or share moral culpability for the crime, a defense attorney may cast an informant as a bribed witness or counter the prosecution’s expert witnesses with more credible experts.

Overall, the defense strategy is to poke holes in the evidence. If the prosecution’s case is weak, circumstantial, and uncorroborated, a defense lawyer may simply rest after the prosecution sets forth its case, knowing there is insufficient evidence to convict beyond a reasonable doubt.

The defendant who committed the crime but should be excused, relies on these theories:


The defendant used force for self-protection not aggression. A defendant may be acquitted of assault or homicide when they had no choice or opportunity to avoid the crime. For example, the police might not know who started the fight and who merely defended himself.


Certain crimes, like theft, include non-consensual acts of taking. If the defendant proves the person consented to the taking, there is no crime.


For intent crimes, insanity may be a partial defense if the defendant was not able to tell right from wrong or control their behavior when committing the crime; insanity challenges whether the defendant intended their actions. An affirmative defense, the defendant has the burden to prove insanity.

Under the influence: Except for drunk driving, being under the influence may also challenge a specific intent crime. Like the insanity defense, it may lead to lighter sentencing or lesser charges, say, simple assault downgraded from aggravated assault. However, being involuntarily under the influence, or unknowingly drugged, may be a complete defense.


The defendant is induced to commit a crime they otherwise would not have committed.


A defendant is threatened with harm to commit or abet crime.

Illegally obtained evidence:

Unreasonable searches and seizures, without probable cause for a warrant, may bar seized evidence from being introduced at trial.

The facts may support pretrial motions to suppress evidence illegally obtained through coercion, entrapment, and faulty arrest procedures (no Miranda rights read) to improve the defendant’s chances.

Beyond the initial theory of guilt or innocence, a defense seeks to tell one of three stories: confession, denial, and admission with explanation—all with the aim to acquit, reduce the charges or plea bargain.

In telling the defendant’s story, counsel aims to:

• show the defendant in the best possible light—using the prosecution’s facts to tell a different story, the defendant explains and justifies their actions, perhaps gaining sympathy.

• tell the truth as much as possible—using the prosecution’s facts not only creates doubt but bolsters the credibility of the defendant as truthful, upending juror preconceived notions of guilt and untrustworthiness.
• same facts to tell a different story—based on the true evidence, the defendant uses prosecution facts to raise doubt as to whose version is correct. Some parts of the prosecutor’s case are true but others are not.

And so, the best defense is the truth. If counsel does not know all the facts, they cannot accurately defend, considering all possible outcomes. For example, a client who falsely insists they are innocent may preclude arguments for lesser chargers or a plea bargain.

To prepare for trial, a criminal defense attorney coaches their client in the defense theory the jury must hear. To that effect, the defendant rehearses their story by:

• writing it down
• visiting the crime scene
• conducting mock interviews
• drilling the prosecution’s key evidence.

Trial strategies shift toward juror selection, when defense and prosecution counsel choose the jury. The defense wants jurors most persuadable with the least bias against the defendant:

Establish bias:

Biases against the police (without showing it) or those who can be swayed are preferable.

Voir dire:

Questioning jurors roots out biases and disqualifies jurors.


Researching juror backgrounds helps to exploit their weaknesses or strike a chord with them, thereby preventing a unanimous verdict.

Body language:

Reading body language helps an attorney strategize; when the jury laughs at their jokes or turns away from them, the defense can focus on winning favor or avoiding disfavor.

Juror influences:

A good attorney exploits juror skepticism acquired watching crime shows featuring corrupt experts or police officers.

Public opinion:

Gaging public opinion on high profile cases helps support or dispel juror preconceived notions.

Silent defendant:

A defendant who confessed to their crime may not testify at trial.

An attorney’s job is to fight the government’s evidence, not present the truth.

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Disclaimer: Every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication at the time it was written. It is not intended to provide legal advice or suggest a guaranteed outcome as individual situations will differ and the law may have changed since publication. Readers considering legal action should consult with an experienced lawyer to understand current laws they may affect a case.

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