The Defense of Duress: When the Pressure Gets To Be Too Much

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Defending oneself against criminal charges in North Dakota and Minnesota involves not only examining the evidence the prosecution intends to rely upon to establish your guilt for any weaknesses and/or contradictions, but also investigating whether any affirmative defenses may be available to you. Even though a successful affirmative defense results in a finding of not guilty and acquittal of the charges against you, an affirmative defense is not the same thing as challenging the sufficiency and persuasiveness of the prosecution’s evidence. When you allege an affirmative defense to a crime, you are essentially saying that even if you did commit the crime, you were justified in doing so because of one or more legally-recognized reasons.

Duress: Crime Committed Under Pressure

One such affirmative defense is “duress.” Generally speaking, a person commits a crime under duress when he or she is forced to commit a criminal act or believes he or she has no choice but to commit the criminal act in order to save him or herself or another from death or serious bodily harm. An example of duress may exist, for example, if another person is holding your child hostage at gunpoint and orders you to rob a bank.

Because duress is an affirmative defense, it would fall to you to introduce evidence and testimony (even testify yourself, depending on what evidence is available to establish your defense) that would convince the judge or jury that you were under duress at the time you committed the crime. At trial, once you have presented evidence of duress, the prosecution will have an opportunity to rebut your claim of duress with any additional evidence they may have.

Limitations to the Defense of Duress

There are two important limitations to the defense of duress:

  • First, you cannot raise the defense of duress if you voluntarily placed yourself in the midst of a criminal enterprise and a situation where it was likely that you would be subjected to duress. For example, duress would not be available as a defense if you conspired with others to commit a robbery and thereafter claim you were under duress from your fellow conspirators;
  • Secondly, your defense of duress will not be successful if the force or threat was not so great that a person of “reasonable firmness” would not have felt pressured to commit the criminal act. So, for example, a young person who claimed he or she committed a crime in order to be accepted by his or her peer group could not claim that he or she acted under duress.

Your North Dakota and Minnesota Criminal Defense Attorney is Ready to Help You

Speak with Tatum O’Brien and the criminal defense legal team at O’Keeffe O’Brien Lyson Foss to discuss your criminal charges and the defenses you may have available to you. Call the firm at 701-235-8000 or 877-235-8002, or contact the firm online.

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