Is the defendant entitled to assert the duress defense to the murder charge in the following case?
Defendant was charged with murder and with assault with the intent to commit murder. At her trial she claimed that she took the actions because of the demands made by her abusive boyfriend, who told her he would hurt her if she did not do what he demanded.
See People v. Blue, 2004 WL 1676165 (Mich.App. 2004)
A duress defense is a bit risky in a courtroom, and is usually only undertaken when a defendant and/or their attorney believe that they cannot successfully claim that the criminal act was not committed. That is, they think they will be proven guilty of the crime, and now must mount a defense based on coercion or duress.
One of the criteria that must be met for a claim of duress to be accepted legally is that the threat made to the defendant which coerced them to commit the crime must be equal to or greater than the harm committed by the crime. In this case, it is a murder, and there would need to be proof that the defendant herself would be killed unless she carried out a murder. What's more, the threat to the defendant must be proven to be both imminent, inescapable and immediate.
So based on the limited information you provide, I would say no duress defense can be made in this circumstance, as I can only assume the defendant had an opportunity to go to the police or to get away without carrying out the murder.
I assume that, in this case, the defendant was accused of murdering a third party and that she claims she did so because her boyfriend threatened to harm her unless she carried out the killing. If this is what happened, the defendant would not be able to successfully claim duress as a defense for her actions.
It is true that a defendant is, in general, not responsible for his or her actions if he or she is forced to commit a crime by some other person who is using threats to coerce the defendant to commit the crime. However, this rule does not apply in the case of murder. It only applies to lesser crimes.
As the link below states (bold face added):
Except with respect to HOMICIDE, a person who is compelled to commit a crime by an unlawful threat from another person to injure him, her, or a third person, will generally not be held responsible for its commission.
Because of this exception, the defendant cannot assert the duress defense in this case.