There is duress when someone uses force or the threat of force to induce another person to commit a crime. When an accused committed a crime because of the fear of force or threat of force, he will be justified in his actions and he will be excused from any criminal liability for his act. There is a requirement for the threat or the use of force to be of such a violent nature that it overpowers the will of the accused.
Duress is a defence because when the will of the accused is so overborne by fear of personal violence, the accused does not really commit the crime with the requisite criminal intent. He may commit the acts constituting the crime but he commits the crime out of fear, not out of a mind to inflict harm upon another.
There is also the requirement that the threat of force or the use of force upon the accused must be present and operative at the very instance when the accused was committing the crime.
The threat must be imminent (it can happen at any time), impending (looming over the accused) and continuing. If, for example, the prosecution proves that the threat or use of force was at anytime stopped, suspended or withdrawn giving the accused a reasonable opportunity to stop or to escape or to call the police, and yet the accused still persisted in committing the crime, then the legal defence of duress is not available to acquit the accused.
The threat of force or the use of force must be of a serious nature that any ordinary person under the same threat or use of force will likely yield to the threat in the very same way that the accused acted.
It has been ruled by the courts that the defence of duress is not available as a legal defence when the accused is charged with any crime except murder. The threat of losing one’s life cannot justify the taking of another person’s life.
Disclaimer : This article is just a summary of the subject matter being discussed and should not be regarded as a comprehensive legal advice for you to defend yourself alone. If you are charged with criminal offences, it is recommended that you seek legal assistance from criminal lawyers.