There are few explanations that will usually allow a person to escape criminal charges scot-free.  One such explanation is if a defendant can show they acted under Duress.  Generally, this means the person acted under a threat of, or use of, force by a 3rd party that’s strong enough that the defendant’s will was overborne.  For example, if Joe forces Dan to rob Victoria, by threatening Dan with a loaded gun and threatening to kill him unless he robs Victoria.  This would be duress, since the force from Joe operated on Dan’s mind.  But if Joe had given Dan an epilepsy-producing drug, so that Dan went into convulsions and attacked someone, Dan would not raise the defense of duress;  he would say it was an involuntary action.

The Potential Harm To Defendant Has To Be Greater Than The Harm To Victim

Before someone argues that they committed the crime because they were under duress, the defendant generally has to show that the consequences of not going through the criminal endeavor would result in serious harm (usually death or serious bodily injury).  The reason for this qualification on the rule, is that a person should be confronted with little other option than to commit the crime.  The only time a person cannot use the defense of duress is if the person must kill someone else (the court will not weigh a life for a life).

For example, if Steve is approached by a cult like figurehead who demands that Steve kill Lauren because she tried to leave his cult, Steve says he doesn’t want to kill anyone, but the cult leader threatens Steve saying that if he does not kill Lauren, he will kill Steve.  Realizing that he has little other option, Steve waits for Lauren to come home, springs out from behind the bushes and kills Lauren.  After being apprehended by the police, Steve tries to argue that he would’ve been killed if he hadn’t killed Lauren.  Steve would still be found guilty of murder, despite the threat of death by the cult leader.  There’s 2 main justifications for this: the moral choice between the defendant’s life and an innocent victim is one that requires the defendant to sacrifice their own life.  The second example falls under the “immunization of terrorists” justification – a gang could, rightfully, claim that if they did not commit the killings, they would have been killed by the gang.  While this is the truth, a court will not allow a person to use this as a defense.

What do you think?  Should a person still be found guilty if they kill someone even if they are going to be killed if they don’t?  What about if killing that one person would save hundreds of people?