Most individuals believe they would never break the law, although they may commit minor infractions like speeding. However, if someone threatens their life or the lives of their loved ones, they may be compelled to commit a crime to keep themselves and their family safe. Generally speaking, the law understands that imminent threats of violence can cause the most law-abiding citizens to engage in unlawful actions. While duress is not a justification for committing a crime, it can serve as a powerful defense. In most cases, it can provide a sufficient excuse from criminal charges. If you were forced to commit a crime, it is in your best interest to contact a seasoned Camden County Criminal Defense Attorney who can help you prove the elements of duress to avoid harsh penalties.
How can I fight criminal charges if forced to commit a crime in New Jersey?
Duress does not justify committing a crime. However, it can serve as a valid excuse if you committed the crime because you faced an imminent threat of physical violence. For the duress defense to be used, you must demonstrate that a reasonable person in the same position would also have committed the crime to protect themselves or another person from a threat of physical violence. It is helpful to look at it with respect to self-defense. Similarly, it arises from the need to protect oneself or someone else from an imminent threat of severe bodily injury or death, with the reasonable fear that the threat would be carried out. Ultimately, the duress defense requires proving you had no alternative to committing the crime.
Generally, duress is not a defense against murder, as most jurisdictions find killing someone else to avoid being killed is not a justified excuse for homicide. In New Jersey, the duress defense can only be used to reduce the degree of the crime to manslaughter. Therefore raising this defense in murder cases will not excuse you from criminal charges.
What are the different elements of duress?
The duress defense requires that someone’s life be at stake. That said, you must prove each element of duress to the court to prove that you had no choice but to break the law to keep yourself or another person safe from an imminent threat of harm. It is critical to note that the threat of physical violence or death does not need to be explicitly stated. If someone held a gun or knife to you, these actions are considered an imminent threat of injury and death.
If you were blackmailed, this does not constitute duress, as you must face the threat of death or serious harm through the direct actions of another person. Furthermore, you must provide evidence demonstrating you could not escape this threat other than by committing a crime. Ultimately, this defense can excuse you from criminal charges if you can prove the elements of duress.
If you were coerced into committing a crime, contact a determined attorney from the legal team at Thomas DeMarco & Associates, LLC, as soon as possible, who can help you prove the element of duress. If the circumstances of your crime make the duress defense inapplicable, our team can help you determine whether you can use the necessity defense that applies when you commit a crime to prevent a more significant danger.