Facing federal criminal charges can be daunting, especially when you believe that your actions were driven by fear or external pressure. If you’ve found yourself in a situation where you’ve committed an offense out of immediate fear or threat, you might consider using the defense of duress or coercion.
Keep reading to learn more about it and then contact Chambers Law Firm at 714-760-4088 for a free legal consultation with a federal criminal defense attorney.
Understanding the Nuances of Duress and Coercion
Duress and coercion, while closely related, have distinct definitions in legal terms. Duress involves acting out of immediate fear for one’s safety. In simpler terms, it means you carried out the crime because you believed that not doing so would result in immediate harm or even death to you or a loved one.
On the other hand, coercion deals with being forced into crime due to threats or intimidation by another party. When presenting a defense based on these principles, you’re essentially saying someone else’s threats compelled you to commit the offense, and you acted under the weight of that intimidation.
Federal Guidelines on Duress and Coercion
The Federal Sentencing Guideline Manual states that if an individual commits an offense because of significant coercion, blackmail, or duress that doesn’t fully exonerate them, the court might consider reducing the sentence below the given guideline range. The reduction is typically based on the reasonableness of the defendant’s actions and the perceived harm. However, it’s crucial to understand that economic pressures or personal financial difficulties don’t usually qualify for a sentence reduction based on these grounds.
Pressures Leading to Criminal Acts
Instances abound where individuals find themselves committing acts they would otherwise avoid. The shadows of threats or immediate danger can often push individuals into activities like bank heists. This could be due to violent threats or perhaps even involvement in a perilous criminal ring.
Setting the Groundwork for a Duress or Coercion Defense
If you’re contemplating this defense strategy, it’s essential to ensure you and Chambers Law Firm can prove the following foundational aspects:
- Immediate Threat: The threat you faced was clear, specific, and about to happen, not an ambiguous or distant possibility. This threat needed to concern your life or had the potential to cause severe bodily harm.
- Genuine Fear: The law doesn’t just look at the threat but also examines your belief in its occurrence. It’s crucial that you genuinely believed in the threat, meaning any rational person in your shoes would’ve felt the same.
- No Clear Escape: The final piece of the puzzle is demonstrating that you had no viable way to sidestep the situation. This suggests that you felt trapped and saw the act as the sole way out.
A Few Considerations to Keep in Mind
Not every crime qualifies for this defense. For instance, murder charges often don’t accept duress or coercion as valid defenses. Moreover, the legal defense based on these principles is strictly tied to threats of immediate harm or death. Threats of revealing damaging information, for example, won’t typically stand in court as a valid reason.
It’s also worth noting that this defense might not hold water if you willingly placed yourself in a compromising situation. Joining a criminal group voluntarily and later claiming duress for acts committed under their influence probably won’t be successful.
Should you find yourself facing federal charges and believe that duress or coercion played a role, it’s crucial to reach out to professionals who can guide you. Contact Chambers Law Firm for a comprehensive case review either by phone at 714-760-4088 or through our contact form.