A Primer on Criminal Defense: Duress
It’s one of the common things people say when trying to explain a wrongdoing: “They made me do it.” Interestingly, this can be a powerful defense against serious criminal charges like theft. This is called the legal defense of duress. But unlike the common excuse, there are conditions that need to be satisfied for this argument to apply.
The Principle Behind Duress
The law demands that a criminal act must have criminal intent, among other things. This means you can’t be charged only by the wrongdoing. It must be proved that you had the culpable state of mind. This is the reason the defense of duress is accepted. If someone coerces you into doing something, essentially, you don’t have the intention of committing the criminal act. In other words, you don’t have the criminal intent.
The challenging thing in using this defense is you would need to assert and prove that you were under extreme pressure that you were stripped off of your will. Thus, keeping you from forming criminal intent.
Elements of Duress
As mentioned, the defense of duress isn’t as straightforward as saying, “They made me rob the store.” You would need to satisfy certain elements to use this argument. And because state laws vary, The Law Office Of Troy P. Owens, Jr noted that it’s best to consult an experienced theft attorney. San Diego, CA law experts can help you navigate the ins and outs of this defense strategy.
One element you should be able to prove is the presence of a threat. In a nutshell, it’s like saying, “They made me rob the store while there’s a gun pointed at my loved one.” The threat need not be explicit; it may be implied.
Another thing you should know about this element of threat is that it should be the immediate kind. You should be able to establish that there’s an instant danger that could happen if you don’t commit the criminal act. This is difficult to prove and to some extent, may be unfair, but this element lies in the principle of duress mentioned earlier. That the accused was deprived of free will such that they’re unable to form criminal intent.
If the threat isn’t immediate, then the accused will have time to sort things out and exhaust options before committing the crime. Given this situation, if the accused pushed through with the crime, then they had time to form intent.
Duress can be a powerful defense against crimes, but one that’s really challenging to use. Get professional legal assistance to build your case.