When Can Duress or Threats Be Used as a Defense in a Criminal Case? 

The duress or threats defense can be used when a person threatens another person to do something to them or a family member (typically some physical violence) if they do not commit a crime. Usually, the threats must be accurate, and an ordinary person would have to believe that if they did not comply, they or a person close to them would be in immediate danger.

For example, if a person held a gun to another person's head while driving a car and told them to run from the police, this defense could be used to defend the driver from an evading charge.

The typical case on this is if you know much about it — the Patty Hearst situation — where she was kidnapped and then forced, according to her — to become involved in a bunch of bank robberies.

This would be an example of coercion or threat defense where somebody has been threatened, and their life has been threatened if they don't participate in some crime.  If you would prove this to an average juror or person, it made sense, and they believed that you had been threatened and that you were realistically scared, then you could use it as a defense in a criminal case in Los Angeles.

Common Sense and Reasonableness

As in most things in life and specifically in criminal defense, the key is common sense and reasonableness.  In other words, if you look at the facts and it makes sense.  You have this person who would have never committed this crime, but for being scared to death because something threatened them, then obviously that makes sense, and you could use it as a defense.

To evaluate this type of scenario because it doesn't come up very much, you have to sit down with an attorney who has handled criminal cases in LA, has the experience and knows how to win.  I've been doing this for a long time.  I know what it takes to win a criminal case because I've done many jury trials.  I've seen what the jurors are talking about and reflecting on after the case.  So, we're able to pinpoint before the case what the issues are going to be.

So, in a threat or duress defense case, we will look at the entire case in its totality.  We're going to talk to you about it.  We're going to look at whatever evidence the prosecutors are going to put on, and then we're going to evaluate whether a jury would believe our defense.  And if they would, and you're not guilty of the crime, and you didn't intend to commit the crime, and you indeed were coerced and in a duress situation at the time you committed the crime, then we're likely going to be successful in the defense.

All things in criminal defense are not an exact science because you're talking about twelve jurors — twelve members of the community that you've never met before.  You can't creep into their minds and see how they might evaluate a situation where you're claiming duress, so you have to use experience.  You have to use common sense.  What makes sense to you and what makes sense under the circumstances in these defense/threat defense cases.

Threat Has To Be Credible

There's going to be a jury instruction that will be given to the jurors after the case with the law on the crimes you're committed with and the law on this defense of coercion or threat. The threat will have to be credible — a reasonable person will have to believe that it was a legitimate threat, and then anything that you do — any force that you use or any actions that you take — will have to be justified under the circumstances.

If you go too far and it doesn't make any practical sense that you could be under duress to a point where you would do certain acts, that obviously would negate the defense. You would not be able to use coercion or threats defense in a Los Angeles criminal defense case.

This is not a defense that comes up very often in criminal defense but is a viable defense under the right circumstances. Suppose you believe that you have a guard of duress. In that case, your best option is to consult with a  criminal defense attorney and tell them precisely what happened in your case and let them assist you in deciding whether this defense applies to your case. I usually can listen to the whole story under the cloak of the attorney-client privilege and give you a pretty good idea if you can be successful with this defense.

Review Case Strategy With Our Law Firm

So, I have you come in, sit down, and we cover all the details in my office under the cloak of the attorney/client privilege. Then we genuinely decide whether this defense is viable makes sense under the circumstances of your case. Whether we can win the case with the defense or whether we need to show the prosecutor what we have so we can try and get a lesser offense, a lesser charge.

Early case intervention by our lawyers can be critical for the outcome as we could use a pre-filing intervention strategy to avoid the filing of formal charges. So, that's something that we're going to talk about and make the final decision on when we meet.