There have been many cases in our history where duress involved threats of murder. For instance, you can look at the case of Barton v Armstrong (1976). Armstrong, the former chairman of a big company, threatened Barton, the managing director, with death if he did not to purchase shares in the company. Barton, however, believed that this agreement was a sufficient business arrangement from his own point of view and for the success of the company. Barton executed a deed to do just that, and then sought a declaration that the deed was actually sought under duress. Even though Barton may have entered into the agreement without threats, the point that he was threatened at all made the case. Armstrong’s evidence was looked at to see if Barton was actually going to sign the agreement even if the threats weren’t made.
What is Duress and How is it Proven?
Duress, from a legal standpoint, is when a person is influenced to sign a contract under some sort of pressure. This would include personal threats to liberty, threats of actual violence, and excessive economic pressure. Has somebody made a threat and caused intense and stressful states of mind? Then the courts may find the contract invalid and question whether or not duress was at play. Many people will raise duress defenses when force or violence is used to compel him or her into entering a contract. There are two types of duress: economic and physical. Economic is when one party uses economic pressure to unfairly force another party into a contract, while physical occurs when the person is forced into entering a contract as a result of threat of physical bodily harm on them or their family. To prove a case of duress, parties must show a few things. These include a continuous contract that exists between the plaintiff and the defendant, a threat of the defendant terminating the preexisting contract, and the plaintiff accepting the terms of the contract because of duress. Of course, there are many more elements that are taken into consideration such as the bargaining power of both sides at the time of the agreement and the mental states of both parties as well.
Of course, as with any crime, there are always defenses. In cases of duress, some of the most common examples of defenses are:
- Threat of Harm: The defendant experienced a serious threat involving the contract. This usually includes some type of threat signifying bodily harm. Usually the threat is made to a member of the defendant’s family, such as a threat that the defendant’s child will be killed if they do not agree to the contract.
- Reasonable Fear: The criminal defendant must have had a reasonable and objective fear that the threat would be acted upon.
- No Means of Escape: If there were no reasonable means of escaping the situation, then this is a viable defense. If the defendant could have left the scene of the crime without harm, then this will not apply.
So, what happens if homicide was a factor in the case? States will typically provide that, in cases of murder, the defense of duress is unavailable. This criminal act involves the taking of a life, which is a crime in itself and a very serious one at that. Only a handful of states will allow for homicide charges to be lessened when duress was at play. They may reduce the murder charges to manslaughter, but you should never count on that. At The Law Office of Peter Blair, we can help you if you have been involved in a duress case. Duress is a very serious and extremely stressful crime that should never go uncharged. If you have fallen victim in a duress case, you want an attorney who will fight for your rights. Call us today for more information on how to get started.