Is “Mere Presence” a Valid Legal Defense to a Criminal Charge?

April 2, 2023

In California, the defense of mere presence can be used in a criminal case when the defendant argues that they were present at the scene of a crime but did not participate in or aid the commission of the crime. This defense is based on the principle that a person should not be held criminally responsible for the actions of others simply because they were present at the scene of a crime.

To assert the defense of mere presence, the defendant must provide evidence that they were present at the scene of the crime but did not participate in or aid the commission of the crime. This evidence can include witness testimony, photographs, video footage, or other documentation that can show the defendant’s actions and movements at the time of the crime.

The prosecution has the burden of proving that the defendant was not just present at the scene of the crime, but also participated in or aided the commission of the crime. This means that the prosecution must provide evidence that the defendant had knowledge of the crime, intended to assist in the commission of the crime, or took some action to further the commission of the crime.

It’s important to note that the defense of mere presence can be difficult to prove, especially if the prosecution has strong evidence linking the defendant to the crime. For example, if the prosecution has DNA evidence or eyewitness testimony placing the defendant at the scene of the crime and involved in the commission of the crime, the defense of mere presence may be difficult to prove.

Additionally, a defendant’s mere presence at the scene of a crime does not necessarily mean that they are innocent of the charges. A defendant may be charged with a crime under California law, even if they were not the actual perpetrator of the crime but aided, abetted, or assisted the perpetrator. The prosecution must prove that the defendant had the intent to aid, abet, or assist in the commission of the crime and that the defendant’s actions were a direct and natural result of that intent.

Attorney John D. Rogers is an Orange County criminal defense attorney. He is a board-certified criminal law specialist by the State Bar of California. His office is located in Newport Beach, CA and he represents clients throughout Southern California in state and federal matters. If you’re seeking legal representation, give the Law Offices of John D. Rogers a call to schedule a free consultation.

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