Brief Fact Summary. The Defendant, Robert Neal Anderson (Defendant) and another man, Ron Kiern (Mr. Kiern), killed a woman they suspected had molested two young girls. The Defendant claimed that Kiern threatened him, and therefore, the Defendant committed murder under duress.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. Duress is never a defense to murder, nor can the defense of duress reduce murder to manslaughter.
Can duress reduce murder to a lesser crime, namely manslaughter?
No. The law universally accepts the principle that an innocent third person’s life cannot be taken to save oneself.
No. Voluntary manslaughter is a creature of statute in California and no statute provides for a version of manslaughter defined as a murder under duress. Further, duress is a defense to manslaughter. Therefore, if duress could reduce murder to manslaughter, then the same duress could provide a defense to the manslaughter. In other words, duress would effectively become a defense to murder, which is clearly not permitted.
Dissent. Duress should be a defense to noncapital murder since the mental state required to be convicted of noncapital murder is such that a person could not intend to commit murder, but rather acted with reckless disregard for human life. As an example, a defendant who is forced to drive a car at a high rate of speed by having a gun pointed at his head should be able to claim duress if he causes an accident resulting in death. He did not directly and intentionally kill anyone under duress, but rather, he drove recklessly under duress and accidentally killed someone.
Concurrence. Even though duress should be a defense to second-degree murder, the defendant did not present substantial evidence of duress.
Discussion. Duress is neither a defense to murder nor can it reduce murder to manslaughter.