Sometimes North Carolina residents intentionally commit a crime — perhaps by knowingly selling an illegal drug. Other times, they unintentionally commit a crime — perhaps by accidentally walking away with someone else’s cellphone or by breaking a law that they didn’t know existed (or a law that they didn’t fully understand). When a crime is committed by a defendant unintentionally, it’s defined in two different ways by referring to it as either a “mistake in fact” or “mistake of law.”
Mistake in fact
Imagine that a defendant was selling someone a bag of marijuana, but the defendant thought he was merely selling a bag of oregano. This would be a mistake in fact. The accused person mistakenly broke the law. If the defendant can show in court that this was the case, the court may not be able to convict him or her of the alleged drug crimes. Of course, the facts would need to support the defendant’s assertion. For example, if he was selling the bag of oregano for $200, it may seem apparent that he knew he was selling an illegal substance that was much more valuable than the going price of oregano.
Mistake of law
A mistake of law happens when a defendant commits an act that he or she did not know was a crime. However, in criminal court, “ignorance of the law is not a defense.” Unfortunately, even if a defendant honestly thought he or she was acting lawfully, if he or she committed a crime, a court may still choose to convict him or her.
If you have been accused of a drug crime that you committed due to a mistake in fact or a mistake in law, it’s important to begin organizing your criminal defense immediately. Thoroughly review all of the defense options that could apply to your case and select your course of action with care.