At trial for multiple criminal offenses, Crawford (Defendant) asserted the defense of duress and argued that a man he owed money had threatened him into committing the crimes.
In order to successfully assert the defense of duress, the defendant must show an imminent threat of harm and a reasonable fear of that threat.
Defendant repeatedly purchased drugs from Bateman and ran up a debt of $10,000 to Bateman. Bateman told Defendant to commit robberies in order to satisfy the debt, or Bateman would injure him. Bateman drove Defendant to a nearby city and told Defendant to rob a woman getting into her car. Defendant did rob and assault the woman, demanding money and valuables Defendant then engaged in further criminal activity over the next several hours including hijacking a car and kidnapping the occupants, robbing two homes, and forcing a homeowner to access an ATM to provide Defendant with more money. Bateman was not satisfied with the value of the items and cash stolen and told Defendant that he would harm Defendant’s son if Defendant did not commit more robberies. One of Defendant’s victims contacted the police and Defendant was arrested. At trial, Defendant asserted the defense of duress, claiming that Bateman’s threats were the primary motivation for the crimes Defendant committed. Defendant was convicted and appealed, arguing that the jury instruction on duress requiring an imminent threat was erroneous.
Does a threat of harm need to be imminent, and fear of that threat reasonable, in order to successfully assert the defense of duress?
(Allegrucci, J.) Yes. In order to successfully assert the defense of duress, the defendant must show an imminent threat of harm and a reasonable fear of that threat. The defendant must have no means of escaping or withdrawing from the coerced activity. Here, the threats to Defendant and his son were not imminent, even though Defendant was dependent on Bateman due to his narcotics addiction. Defendant’s criminal acts stretched over several hours and were committed outside of Bateman’s presence. Defendant could have escaped and reported the threats to police. Defendant’s dependency on Bateman for drugs does not factor into the analysis of the imminence of the threat, but rather on the reasonableness of the fear of the threat. In this case, the threats were indefinite and therefore Defendant’s fear was not reasonable. Defendant also created the dependency through his own actions in buying illegal narcotics from Bateman. The instructions were proper and the defense of duress did not apply in this case. Affirmed.
The court’s opinion relied on another similar case in which the defendant was able to escape the coercer and report the threats to the police, suggesting that any opportunity to withdraw from the coercer keeps the threat from being considered imminent. Additionally, the defense of duress is not a justification defense, but rather an excuse defense, because it furthers the acts of the coercer instead of resisting them.