Hunter (Defendant) claimed that he participated in criminal activity that resulted in two deaths under duress.
Duress is a defense to felony murder.
Defendant was a hitchhiker who was picked up by two men. The group then became involved in a kidnapping and robbery that resulted in the deaths of two people. Defendant was charged with robbery, battery, kidnapping, and murder under the felony-murder rule. Defendant claimed that one of the two men had threatened him into participating in the criminal activity and requested that the jury be instructed on duress. The trial court ruled that duress was not a defense to felony murder. Defendant was convicted and appealed.
Is duress a defense to felony murder?
[Judge not named in casebook extract.] Yes. Duress is a defense to felony murder. Duress is a defense to any crime other than voluntary homicide. The felony-murder rule creates liability for homicide for felonious acts that were not expected or intended to result in death. The court cannot deny use of the defense of duress to someone who becomes involved in a scheme that results in an unexpected death. Defendant’s only exposure to homicide liability in this case would be through felony murder, so he should have been able to raise the defense of duress. Reversed.
Duress is a well-recognized defense to criminal charges, although jurisdictions vary on the amount of duress necessary to escape criminal liability. Murder and voluntary manslaughter are exceptions to the duress defense, however. Public policy does not allow one to kill another person to save his own life.