III. Mistake of Fact

One of the most confusingly worded defenses in all of Criminal Law is Mistake of Fact. I will start with simply posting the California Jury Instruction as a juror would receive it:

The defendant is not guilty of (the crime) if he did not have the intent or mental state required to commit the crime because he reasonably did not know a fact or reasonably and mistakenly believed a fact. If the defendant’s conduct would have been lawful under the facts as he reasonably believed them to be, he did not commit.

If you act under an honest and reasonable mistake of fact, you are typically not guilty of the crime. An example would be that you leave your keys in your car, and return to the parking lot. You get into a car with keys in the ignition and drive. Soon after, you realize it was not in fact your car, but someone else, who also left their keys in the car. In that example, you would not be guilty of Grant Theft, because a required element is that you intended to permanently deprive the owner of their vehicle. Here, you simply thought it was your car. That is the fact that you believed to be true, and it would act as a complete defense to the charge of Grand Theft. For more information on the defense of mistake of fact, call Ontario Criminal Defense attorney Adam Jackson today for a free consultation and free case evaluation. Call today at 909-939-7126. Located in Ontario, CA.