Duress is the potential legal defense in which the defendant argues that he or she should not be held responsible or criminally liable for whatever criminal act was committed because the act was committed only out of an immediate fear of injury. Duress is one of the defenses classified as an excuse.
While it is similar to necessity in that there is an outside force causing the defendant to commit a criminal act, necessity and duress are really quite different. Necessity requires that the force acting on the defendant be a natural force, i.e. a hurricane or some other force that is outside of the realm of humans. Duress, on the other hand, requires that a human exert the force on the defendant which caused the defendant to commit the crime.
In order for duress to qualify as a defense, there are four elements that must be met. The elements are:
- The threat must be of serious bodily harm or death
- The harm threatened must be greater than the harm that is caused by the crime
- The threat must be immediate and inescapable
- The defendant must have become involved in the situation through no fault of his or her own
While duress is available for a wide variety of crimes, it cannot be raised when murder charges have been brought. There is a policy that a person whose life is threatened if he or she does not kill another person should sacrifice his or her own life rather than take the life of another innocent individual.