Examine the common law and Model Penal Code approaches to the defense of duress, in which a defendant may avoid liability if he committed a criminal act only after being threatened, usually with death or serious bodily harm.


Our discussion of excuses begins with duress. Duress used to be considered a justification, but modern jurisprudence now tends to categorize it as an excuse.

I. Common Law

Under the common law, the defense of duress is available if: First, there is a threat of unlawful force—usually death or serious bodily harm. Second, the threat comes from a person. Third, the threat is made to a person, either the defendant or a third party. Fourth, the threat is imminent. Fifth, the defendant reasonably...