Mistake of Law or Fact
Mistake of law: In general
• [I]t is well-settled that ignorance of the law is no excuse for criminal behavior.
See also Yoder v. State, 194 N.E. 645, 648 (Ind. 1935)(quoting Marmont v. State, 48 Ind. 21, 31 (Ind. 1874))(“‘[E]very man is presumed to know the laws of the country in which he dwells . . . . [I]gnorance of the law excuses no man.’”)
See also Zakrasek v. State, 150 N.E. 615, 615 (Ind. 1926)(citing Winehart v. State, 6 Ind. 30, 30 (Ind. 1854))(“All persons are charged with knowledge of the criminal laws which define crimes, and the fact . . . that until the day he was charged with this crime he was ignorant that the act which created the crime had been passed by the Legislature and had become a law is of no avail to excuse him for the crime charged.”)
• [A] person is required to comply with the law from the time of its passage even though he does not know of its existence.
Mistake of fact: In general
• It is a defense that the person who engaged in the prohibited conduct was reasonably mistaken about a matter of fact, if the mistake negates the culpability required for commission of the offense.
• Pursuant to IC 35-41-3-7, a mistake of fact defense “is a defense that the person who engaged in the prohibited conduct was reasonably mistaken about a matter of fact, if the mistake negates the culpability required for commission of the offense.”
Mistake of fact: Relationship to intent
• [T]he mistake of fact defense is available where the defendant, acting under a reasonable and honest mistake concerning a fact or facts commits an act which, if the facts were as the defendant believed them to be, would not be criminal. In other words, the defense involves the mental state of the defendant.
Sureepon Roll v. State, 473 N.E.2d 161, 166 (Ind. Ct. App. 1985)(citing Davis v. State, 355 N.E.2d 836, 838 (Ind. 1976))(“It is available as a defense where the defendant, acting under a reasonable and honest mistake concerning a fact or facts; commits an act which, if the facts were as the defendant believed them to be, would not be criminal.”)
• The successful mistake of fact defense precludes the imposition of criminal penalty . . . because an element of the crime, namely, culpability or intent, is negated. In other words, because the act and the state of mind identified by the statute did not occur in criminal conjunction, there was no crime.
Mistake of fact: Elements of the defense
• “‘[I]n order for mistake of fact to be a valid defense, three elements must be satisfied: (1) the mistake must be honest and reasonable; (2) the mistake must be about a matter of fact; and (3) the mistake must negate the culpability required to commit the crime.’”
Carson v. State, 963 N.E.2d 670, 683-84 (Ind. Ct. App. 2012), trans. denied(quoting Nolan v. State, 863 N.E.2d 398, 404 (Ind. Ct. App. 2007)(quoting Giles v. State, 699 N.E.2d 294, 300 (Ind. Ct. App. 1998)))(emphasis omitted)
See Chavers v. State, 991 N.E.2d 148, 151 (Ind. Ct. App. 2013), trans. denied(quoting Potter v. State, 684 N.E.2d 1127, 1135 (Ind. 1997))(“Upon invoking mistake of fact as a defense, the burden shifts to the defendant to satisfy three elements: ‘(1) that the mistake be honest and reasonable; (2) that the mistake be about a matter of fact; and (3) that the mistake negate the culpability required to commit the crime.’”)
See also McCloud v. State, 697 N.E.2d 96, 99 (Ind. Ct. App. 1998)(citing Potter v. State, 684 N.E.2d 1127, 1135 (Ind. 1997))(“A mistake of fact defense requires the defendant to convince the court that his mistake was (1) honest and reasonable, (2) about a matter of fact, and (3) the mistake negated the culpability required to commit the crime.”)
• With regard to the first element, “‘Honesty is a subjective test dealing with what [the defendant] actually believed. Reasonableness is an objective test inquiring what a reasonable man situated in similar circumstances would do . . . .’”
See Potter v. State, 684 N.E.2d 1127, 1135 (Ind. 1997)(citing Davis v. State, 355 N.E.2d 836, 839 (Ind. 1976))(“The ‘reasonableness’ prong inquires what a reasonable person in defendant’s position would think.”)
• [A] fact is “[a] thing done; an action performed or an incident transpiring; an event or circumstance; an actual occurrence; an actual happening in time or space or an event mental or physical; that which has taken place.”
• [The defendant] testified that he never intended to deprive Scott’s [Grocery Store] of the use and value of its money. Rather, [the defendant] stated that, although he knew there were insufficient funds in the account when he cashed the checks, he intended to deposit money in the account before the checks were presented to his bank. [The defendant] contends that he was thus mistaken about his ability to obtain and deposit money in the account before Scott’s [Grocery Store] presented the checks. . . . [The defendant’s] speculation about his future ability to obtain money in a short period of time and deposit it in the . . . account before Scott’s [Grocery Store] presented the cashed checks is not a “matter of fact.”
Mistake of fact: Raising the defense
• When the State has made a prima facie case of guilt, the burden is on the defendant to establish an evidentiary predicate of his mistaken belief of fact, which is such that it could create a reasonable doubt in the fact-finder’s mind that the defendant had acted with the requisite mental state.
Chavers v. State, 991 N.E.2d 148, 151 (Ind. Ct. App. 2013), trans. denied(citing Saunders v. State, 848 N.E.2d 1117, 1121 (Ind. Ct. App. 2006), trans. denied)(“When the State has made a prima facie case of guilt, the burden is on the defendant to establish an evidentiary predicate of his mistaken belief of fact.”)
Mistake of fact: Overcoming the defense
• The State, however, retains the ultimate burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt every element of the charged crime, including culpability or intent, which would in turn entail proof that there was no reasonably held mistaken belief of fact.
• “In other words, the State retains the ultimate burden of disproving the defense beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Ringham v. State, 768 N.E.2d 893, 898 (Ind. 2002), reh’g denied(citing Nordstrom v. State, 627 N.E.2d 1380, 1383 (Ind. Ct. App. 1994), trans. denied)(“It is true that the State retains the ultimate burden of disproving a mistake of fact defense beyond a reasonable doubt.”)
• The State may meet its burden by directly rebutting evidence, by affirmatively showing that the defendant made no such mistake, or by simply relying upon evidence from its case-in-chief.
Mistake of fact: Deciding whether the defendant made a mistake of fact
• Whether [the defendant] made a mistake of fact is a question for the finder of fact.
Mistake of fact: As applied to invasion of privacy
• Mistake of fact is codified as a defense to the charge of invasion of privacy at Indiana Code section 35–41–3–7 . . . .
• For more information about invasion of privacy, please review Invasion of Privacy.
Mistake of fact: As applied to child molesting
• It is a defense to a prosecution [for child molesting] that the accused person reasonably believed that the child was sixteen (16) years of age or older at the time of the conduct, unless
(1) the offense is committed by using or threatening the use of deadly force or while armed with a deadly weapon;
(2) the offense results in serious bodily injury; or
(3) the commission of the offense is facilitated by furnishing the victim, without the victim’s knowledge, with a drug (as defined in IC 16-42-19-2(1)) or a controlled substance (as defined in IC 35-48-1-9) or knowing that the victim was furnished with the drug or controlled substance without the victim’s knowledge.
• We must conclude the legislature’s failure to modify the age at which the [mistake of fact] defense becomes available to a defendant was in the nature of an oversight or scrivener’s error and could not be reflective of a legislative intent to permit the [mistake of fact] defense only when the actor believes the victim is 16 or older, when the [child molesting] statute itself does not prohibit the activity with a child aged 14 to 16. We thus decline to limit the availability of the statutory mistake of fact defense to those defendants whose reasonable belief was that the victim was at least 16 years old and hold that the defense is available to any defendant who reasonably believes the victim to be of such an age that the activity engaged in was not criminally prohibited.
See T.M. v. State, 804 N.E.2d 773, 775 (Ind. Ct. App. 2004), trans. denied(“The mistake of fact defense was available to the defendant and not limited to those defendants whose reasonable belief was that the victim was at least 16 years of age.”)
• For more information about child molesting, please review Child Molesting.
Mistake of fact: As applied to child solicitation
• Indiana Code section 35-42-4-6 unequivocally informs individuals they may not use a computer to sexually solicit a child under the age of fourteen and mistake of fact is not a defense.
See LaRose v. State, 820 N.E.2d 727, 732 (Ind. Ct. App. 2005), trans. denied(footnote omitted)(“Under the amended version of Indiana Code section 35-42-4-6, rather than leaving it to litigants or interpretive courts to find and invoke Indiana Code section 35-41-3-7 ‘s ‘mistake of fact’ provision when a defendant claims he or she was mistaken as to the solicitee’s identity or age, the General Assembly asserted its compelling state interest in protecting children by proactively removing a mistake of fact defense by the express terms of the statute itself.”)
• For more information about child solicitation, please review Child Solicitation.