Understanding the Defense of Coercion

The United States Supreme Court recently refused to hear a man’s challenge to a 2005 murder conviction, which he claimed was the result of coercion. This complicated case is documented in the Netflix series, “Making a Murderer.” A lower court of appeals upheld the man’s convictions for murder, sexual assault, and mutilation of a corpse.

The man’s law enforcement argues that due to the man’s significant intellectual and social limitations, he was coerced into confessing, which violated his constitutional rights. In 2016, a federal magistrate found that the man’s confession was coerced. A three-judge panel of the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals later upheld this ruling. During a rehearing that was requested by state prosecutors, however, the 7th Circuit ruled against the man. The 7th Circuit consequently held that the man had spoken to law enforcement voluntarily with his mother’s permission and provided details about the killing.

How Duress or Coercion are Raised as Defense

Raising the defense of duress or coercion depends on establishing that a person committed the offense in question only because he or she had a reasonable fear that immediate serious bodily injury or death would occur if he or she did not commit the offense. There also cannot have been a reasonable opportunity to avoid the injury. As a result, by raising this defense, a person acknowledges that he or she committed the offense in question but still should not be found guilty.

Court Procedures Involving the Defense of Coercion or Duress

Before a court instructs a jury about coercion, a person must present evidence that coercion or duress occurred. If a person can present a sufficient defense, the burden then shifts to the prosecution to establish that no coercion occurred. The standard the prosecution must meet in establishing this absence of coercion is beyond a reasonable doubt. While coercion is often applied in cases involving drug crimes, it is rarely used in murder cases like it is in the example that began this article.

The Difference Between Duress and Necessity

Sometimes, the defense of necessity rather than duress is raised. Both duress and necessity involve a person acting unlawfully to avoid the threat of immediate harm. Both duress and necessity defenses subsequently fail if a person had a reasonable alternative to violating the law. The difference between these two defenses is that duress arises from the actions of another person while necessity involves a person’s selection between two undesirable consequences. In the case of many offenses, if a person can establish that duress or necessity occurred, a strong defense can be raised. In some cases, these defenses might even be used as the basis for a federal criminal appeal.

Speak with a Seasoned Federal Criminal Appeal Lawyer

No matter the basis, if you need to file a federal criminal appeal, you need the guidance of an experienced attorney. Contact The Federal Criminal Law Center today for assistance. We have guided many other people through the appellate process, and we know what it takes to make sure that your case resolves in the best possible manner.