MISTAKES OF FACT AND LAW
While contemplating, why simple things told as facts, are being twisted, misinterpreted, gave the idea to write about the mistakes of facts and law in legal parlance. Mistakes of fact happens, when something is said by one person to another, when it is not understood the same way it has been said, that becomes MISTAKES OF FACT. That happens when the actual facts are not taken in the way, they are to be taken, that is otherwise. That’s why there are two mistakes one can make, Mistakes of Fact and Mistakes of Law. In most of the cases, only mistakes of fact can serve as defences to criminal charges. But there are exceptions, where there a few select situations in which Mistakes of Law can be a defense.
Let’s see in detail, a mistake of fact is just that, a mistake pertaining to some fact. For an example, if A is 35 years old, but another person B thinks that A is 34 years. Then B has made a mistake of Fact. A mistake of fact can serve as a defense. A mistake of fact is only a defense, if it negates a material element of the crime. Every crime has elements that the Judicial must prove, in order to convict a person. An element while proving a theft is, that one must intend to deprive the owner of his/her property permanently. If a mistake of fact makes it such that, this or some other element is not present, which would go to prove the crime, then one has a defense and cannot be convicted. One must negate the element of crime by a mistake of fact.
The concept of Mistake of Fact can be very complicated. In a situation, where one is working in a library and has brought a laptop with him/her. At the time of leaving the library when the person takes someone else’s laptop, honestly believing to be theirs. That’s when mistake of fact has happened, where one would have taken the laptop, they took was theirs, but it isn’t. This situation has negated the intent to the “deprivation permanently” element of theft. The mistake done here is honest, reasonable mistake, because the laptops could have looked the same, in size, colour and brand. So, one has defense to theft charges made if any.
MISTAKE OF LAW, where one has mistaken the existing law or ignorant about the law itself.Simply said, when one does not completely stop at a signal when it’s a red STOP sign, especially where there are no other cars at the intersection, then it is a Mistake of Law. Whether there are cars or not, one has to come to a complete stop. In almost every case, one will not be allowed to argue that they didn’t know or misunderstood law. It definitely won’t be a defense. There are few limited circumstances where, Mistake of Law, can serve as a defense to criminal charges. They are,
· When the law is not published, that is when a new law or amendment of an existing law has been announced, but not published to that effect as to its implementation or activation. This happens in mostly legal and Governmental Organisations. Amendment would have been announced publicly about the new, amendment law, but wouldn’t have been effected, for want of documentation.
· When one has relied heavily upon a statute, either that was later overturned or held to be unconstitutional. When one has a very valid case to apply on a particular statute, suddenly on another case, the same statute would have been repealed, revoked, annulled, owing to its archaic nature. When this happens before one could apply for their case using the statute, then, Mistake of Law can be taken as defense. Because, the law doesn’t exist at all.
· When one has heavily relied upon a judicial decision. This happens when one hopes too much on the judicial decision, which may vary, in accordance to the changing needs. Old judicial decision could have been made redundant for want of new judicial decision. This can be claimed as a defense for Mistake of Law.
· When the interpretation of law, has been relied upon an appropriate official. Sometimes, when interpretation has been gotten from a reliable, appropriate official then, Mistake of Law can be claimed as a defense. Because the reliability factor is total and the law cannot be misinterpreted, misguided, misled. This situation can be claimed as a defense for Mistake of Law.
Sometimes in life, when facts are said, in a normative way, when they are not taken the way it is being told, that is a Mistake of Fact. It may be done, just to prove that the other person is right, vehemently deny that whatever said is internalised wrongly to their convenience, reading between the lines, giving it a different interpretation, unable to see the intentions with which the facts are being told. When facts are normative, straight, to the point, that is how they should be taken into. Too much interpretation can lead to confusion, as law when it is read again and again can even give probably more than one interpretation. Laws have to be applied as per the facts of the case.
Mistakes happen when law applied to the fact can be wrong or vice versa. That’s why in Law we see the intent of the person who has done the mistake. Whether they are twisting facts or laws to their convenience to escape from punishment. Genuine mistake of facts and laws, are always pardonable and can be taken as defense. Where, they can be corrected and applied again with the right facts and laws, admitting the error. This can happen because of oversight, negligence, haste.
MISTAKES OF FACT AND LAW, CAN BE DEFENSIVE TO CRIMINAL CHARGES DEPENDING ON THEIR INGENUITY OTHERWISE, THEY CAN BE PROSECUTED….
VIJAYASHREE RAMESH, CHENNAI BASED ADVOCATE.