Legal Dictionary

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Duress

Duress is the use or threatened use of force against another to compel him or her to commit an unlawful act. A defendant in a criminal action can use the duress defense if someone forced him to commit the crime. The defendant must possess a reasonable belief that the threat will be carried out. A defendant in this situation is described as having committed a crime “under duress.” For example, if Ed holds a gun to Joe's head and tells him he's going to die if he doesn't break Frank's kneecaps, Joe can use the defense of duress to have his assault charges dismissed or if he is convicted of assault, have the punishment diminished. Duress is not available as a defense to murder.