Affirmative defense

Affirmative defense

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A defendant offers an affirmative defense when responding to a plaintiff's claim in common law
Common law
Common law is law developed by judges through decisions of courts and similar tribunals rather than through legislative statutes or executive branch action...

 jurisdictions, or, more familiarly, in criminal law
Criminal law
Criminal law, is the body of law that relates to crime. It might be defined as the body of rules that defines conduct that is not allowed because it is held to threaten, harm or endanger the safety and welfare of people, and that sets out the punishment to be imposed on people who do not obey...

. Essentially, the defendant affirms that the condition is occurring or has occurred but offers a defense that bars, or prevents, the plaintiff's claim. An affirmative defense is known, alternatively, as a justification, or an excuse, defense. Consequently, affirmative defenses limit or excuse a defendant's criminal culpability
Culpability
Culpability descends from the Latin concept of fault . The concept of culpability is intimately tied up with notions of agency, freedom and free will...

 or civil liability
Legal liability
Legal liability is the legal bound obligation to pay debts.* In law a person is said to be legally liable when they are financially and legally responsible for something. Legal liability concerns both civil law and criminal law. See Strict liability. Under English law, with the passing of the Theft...

.

A clear illustration of an affirmative defense is self defense. In its simplest form, a criminal defendant may be exonerated if he can demonstrate that he had an honest and reasonable belief that another's use of force was unlawful and that the defendant's conduct was necessary to protect himself.

"Mistake of fact" is not an affirmative defense: it does not require proof but it does introduce doubt. In mistake-of-fact defenses, the defendant asserts that his mistaken belief prevents the establishment, beyond a reasonable doubt, of the required mens rea
Mens rea
Mens rea is Latin for "guilty mind". In criminal law, it is viewed as one of the necessary elements of a crime. The standard common law test of criminal liability is usually expressed in the Latin phrase, actus non facit reum nisi mens sit rea, which means "the act does not make a person guilty...

. It can be used with other defenses such as self defense. Self defense would still be available even if the defendant mistakenly believes that he was in imminent danger of harmful or offensive bodily contact.

Among the most controversial affirmative defenses is the insanity defense, whereby a criminal defendant seeks to be excused from criminal liability on the ground that a mental illness, at the time of the alleged crime, prevented him from understanding the wrongful nature of his actions.

Most affirmative defenses must be pled in a timely manner by a defendant in order for the court to consider them, or else they are considered waived by the defendant's failure to assert them. The classic unwaivable affirmative defense is lack of subject-matter jurisdiction
Subject-matter jurisdiction
Subject-matter jurisdiction is the authority of a court to hear cases of a particular type or cases relating to a specific subject matter. For instance, bankruptcy court only has the authority to hear bankruptcy cases....

. The issue of timely assertion is often the subject of contentious litigation.

Because an affirmative defense requires an assertion of facts beyond those claimed by the plaintiff, generally the party who offers an affirmative defense bears the burden of proof. The standard of proof is typically lower than beyond a reasonable doubt
Beyond a Reasonable Doubt
Beyond a Reasonable Doubt is a 1956 film directed by Fritz Lang and written by Douglas Morrow. The film, considered film noir, was the last American film directed by Lang.-Plot:...

. It can either be proved by clear and convincing evidence or by a preponderance of the evidence. In some cases or jurisdictions, however, the defense must only be asserted, and the prosecution has the burden to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defense is not applicable.

Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure
Federal Rules of Civil Procedure
The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure govern civil procedure in United States district courts. The FRCP are promulgated by the United States Supreme Court pursuant to the Rules Enabling Act, and then the United States Congress has 7 months to veto the rules promulgated or they become part of the...

 governs the assertion of affirmative defenses in civil cases that are filed in the United States district court
United States district court
The United States district courts are the general trial courts of the United States federal court system. Both civil and criminal cases are filed in the district court, which is a court of law, equity, and admiralty. There is a United States bankruptcy court associated with each United States...

s. Rule 8(c) specifically enumerates the following defenses: "accord and satisfaction
Accord and satisfaction
Accord and satisfaction is a contract law concept about the purchase of the release from a debt obligation. The payment is typically less than what is owed and is not paid by the actual performance of the original obligation...

, arbitration
Arbitration
Arbitration, a form of alternative dispute resolution , is a legal technique for the resolution of disputes outside the courts, where the parties to a dispute refer it to one or more persons , by whose decision they agree to be bound...

 and award, assumption of risk
Assumption of risk
Assumption of risk is a defense in the law of torts, which bars a plaintiff from recovery against a negligent tortfeasor if the defendant can demonstrate that the plaintiff voluntarily and knowingly assumed the risks at issue inherent to the dangerous activity in which he was participating at the...

, contributory negligence
Contributory negligence
Contributory negligence in common-law jurisdictions is defense to a claim based on negligence, an action in tort. It applies to cases where a plaintiff/claimant has, through his own negligence, contributed to the harm he suffered...

, discharge in bankruptcy, estoppel
Estoppel
Estoppel in its broadest sense is a legal term referring to a series of legal and equitable doctrines that preclude "a person from denying or asserting anything to the contrary of that which has, in contemplation of law, been established as the truth, either by the acts of judicial or legislative...

, failure of consideration
Consideration
Consideration is the central concept in the common law of contracts and is required, in most cases, for a contract to be enforceable. Consideration is the price one pays for another's promise. It can take a number of forms: money, property, a promise, the doing of an act, or even refraining from...

, fraud
Fraud
In criminal law, a fraud is an intentional deception made for personal gain or to damage another individual; the related adjective is fraudulent. The specific legal definition varies by legal jurisdiction. Fraud is a crime, and also a civil law violation...

, illegality
Illegal agreement
An illegal agreement, under the common law of contract, is one that the courts will not enforce because the purpose of the agreement is to achieve an illegal end. The illegal end must result from performance of the contract itself...

, injury by fellow servant, laches
Laches (equity)
Laches is an "unreasonable delay pursuing a right or claim...in a way that prejudices the [opposing] party" When asserted in litigation, it is an equitable defense, or doctrine...

, license
License
The verb license or grant licence means to give permission. The noun license or licence refers to that permission as well as to the document recording that permission.A license may be granted by a party to another party as an element of an agreement...

, payment
Payment
A payment is the transfer of wealth from one party to another. A payment is usually made in exchange for the provision of goods, services or both, or to fulfill a legal obligation....

, release
Legal release
A legal release is a legal instrument that acts to terminate any legal liability between the releasor and the releasee, signed by the releasor. A release may also be made orally in some circumstances...

, res judicata
Res judicata
Res judicata or res iudicata , also known as claim preclusion, is the Latin term for "a matter [already] judged", and may refer to two concepts: in both civil law and common law legal systems, a case in which there has been a final judgment and is no longer subject to appeal; and the legal doctrine...

, statute of frauds
Statute of frauds
The statute of frauds refers to the requirement that certain kinds of contracts be memorialized in a signed writing with sufficient content to evidence the contract....

, statute of limitations
Statute of limitations
A statute of limitations is an enactment in a common law legal system that sets the maximum time after an event that legal proceedings based on that event may be initiated...

, waiver
Waiver
A waiver is the voluntary relinquishment or surrender of some known right or privilege.While a waiver is often in writing, sometimes a person's actions can act as a waiver. An example of a written waiver is a disclaimer, which becomes a waiver when accepted...

, and any other matter constituting an avoidance or affirmative defense."

Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure
Federal Rules of Civil Procedure
The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure govern civil procedure in United States district courts. The FRCP are promulgated by the United States Supreme Court pursuant to the Rules Enabling Act, and then the United States Congress has 7 months to veto the rules promulgated or they become part of the...

 requires that affirmative defenses be based on "knowledge, information, and belief, formed after an inquiry reasonable under the circumstances," and cannot consist of a laundry list of all known affirmative defenses.

An affirmative defense can be different from a negating defense. A negating defense is one which tends to negate an essential element of the state's case. An example might be a mistake of fact claim in a prosecution for intentional drug possession, where the defendant asserted that he or she mistakenly believed that the object possessed was an innocent substance like oregano
Oregano
Oregano – scientifically named Origanum vulgare by Carolus Linnaeus – is a common species of Origanum, a genus of the mint family . It is native to warm-temperate western and southwestern Eurasia and the Mediterranean region.Oregano is a perennial herb, growing from 20–80 cm tall,...

. Because this defense simply shows that an essential element of the offense is not present, the defendant does not have any burden of persuasion with regards to a negating defense. At most the defendant has the burden of producing sufficient evidence to raise the issue.

Examples

  • civil law
    • accord and satisfaction
      Accord and satisfaction
      Accord and satisfaction is a contract law concept about the purchase of the release from a debt obligation. The payment is typically less than what is owed and is not paid by the actual performance of the original obligation...

    • assumption of risk
      Assumption of risk
      Assumption of risk is a defense in the law of torts, which bars a plaintiff from recovery against a negligent tortfeasor if the defendant can demonstrate that the plaintiff voluntarily and knowingly assumed the risks at issue inherent to the dangerous activity in which he was participating at the...

       (when the plaintiff knowingly entered into a dangerous situation)
    • authority
      Authority
      The word Authority is derived mainly from the Latin word auctoritas, meaning invention, advice, opinion, influence, or command. In English, the word 'authority' can be used to mean power given by the state or by academic knowledge of an area .-Authority in Philosophy:In...

    • consent
      Consent
      Consent refers to the provision of approval or agreement, particularly and especially after thoughtful consideration.- Types of consent :*Implied consent is a controversial form of consent which is not expressly granted by a person, but rather inferred from a person's actions and the facts and...

    • defense of property
      Defense of property
      The defence of property is a possible justification used by defendants who argue that they should not be held liable for the loss and injury they have caused because they were acting to protect their property. Courts have generally ruled that the use of force may be acceptable.-English...

    • estoppel
      Estoppel
      Estoppel in its broadest sense is a legal term referring to a series of legal and equitable doctrines that preclude "a person from denying or asserting anything to the contrary of that which has, in contemplation of law, been established as the truth, either by the acts of judicial or legislative...

    • contract specification
    • contract
      Contract
      A contract is an agreement entered into by two parties or more with the intention of creating a legal obligation, which may have elements in writing. Contracts can be made orally. The remedy for breach of contract can be "damages" or compensation of money. In equity, the remedy can be specific...

      ual provision (when the defendant's liability for causing the plaintiff's injuries had been waived in the contract; however, these provisions are typically unconscionable in many situations.)
    • contributory negligence
      Contributory negligence
      Contributory negligence in common-law jurisdictions is defense to a claim based on negligence, an action in tort. It applies to cases where a plaintiff/claimant has, through his own negligence, contributed to the harm he suffered...

       (when the plaintiff's actions contributed to his own injury)
    • fair use
    • laches
      Laches (equity)
      Laches is an "unreasonable delay pursuing a right or claim...in a way that prejudices the [opposing] party" When asserted in litigation, it is an equitable defense, or doctrine...

       (similar to statute of limitation)
    • merger doctrine
    • repossession
      Repossession
      Repossession is generally used to refer to a financial institution taking back an object that was either used as collateral or rented or leased in a transaction. Repossession is a "self-help" type of action in which the party having right of ownership of the property in question takes the property...

    • statute of frauds
      Statute of frauds
      The statute of frauds refers to the requirement that certain kinds of contracts be memorialized in a signed writing with sufficient content to evidence the contract....

    • statute of limitations
      Statute of limitations
      A statute of limitations is an enactment in a common law legal system that sets the maximum time after an event that legal proceedings based on that event may be initiated...

       (too much time has elapsed between the tort and the complaint)
    • waiver
      Waiver
      A waiver is the voluntary relinquishment or surrender of some known right or privilege.While a waiver is often in writing, sometimes a person's actions can act as a waiver. An example of a written waiver is a disclaimer, which becomes a waiver when accepted...

  • criminal law
    Criminal law
    Criminal law, is the body of law that relates to crime. It might be defined as the body of rules that defines conduct that is not allowed because it is held to threaten, harm or endanger the safety and welfare of people, and that sets out the punishment to be imposed on people who do not obey...

    • insanity defense
    • necessity
      Necessity
      In U.S. criminal law, necessity may be either a possible justification or an exculpation for breaking the law. Defendants seeking to rely on this defense argue that they should not be held liable for their actions as a crime because their conduct was necessary to prevent some greater harm and when...

    • duress
      Duress
      In jurisprudence, duress or coercion refers to a situation whereby a person performs an act as a result of violence, threat or other pressure against the person. Black's Law Dictionary defines duress as "any unlawful threat or coercion used... to induce another to act [or not act] in a manner...

    • self defense
      Self-defense (theory)
      The right of self-defense is the right for civilians acting on their own behalf to engage in violence for the sake of defending one's own life or the lives of others, including the use of deadly force.- Theory :The...

    • statute of limitation
    • truth