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What is the Duress Defence?

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Self-defence arguments are used to say that the defendant needed to perform a potentially illegal act to protect themselves or other innocent parties. The duress defence works very similarly. This defence strategy states that a person was under duress and forced to act, potentially taking illegal actions to alleviate their sense of distress. Though similar in many ways, the duress defence is more limited and controversial.

Canadian Criminal Code states that the duress defence is for someone who felt compelled to defend themselves against death threats or serious bodily harm.

The Criminal Code includes several instances where the duress defence is not applicable, including:

  •  Aggravated assault.
  •  Arson.
  •  Child abduction.
  •  High treason.
  •  Hostage taking.
  •  Murder or attempted murder.
  •  Piracy.
  •  Sexual assault.

Despite an inclusion (or absence) on this list, there are potential instances where certain legal issues may be permitted for exploration under criminal law. For example, murder may be legally allowed if, like in a self-defence case, it is determined that the defendant had no other avenues to defend themselves when put under extreme duress. However, they must truly believe in imminent threats to their lives or fear of severe bodily harm. Proportionality is key. One may not act beyond the reasonable, justifiable level of response to a threat.

What Does it Mean to Be Legally “Under Duress?”

The law requires that certain elements be satisfied in order to legally argue that the defendant was placed into a situation of duress.

These elements include:

  •  Threat of death or serious bodily harm in the present moment or in the imminent future.
  •  The genuine belief that the threat of harm would be carried out if the defendant did not act to defend themselves.
  •  Cornered and without other safe options, the defendant had no other choice but to act.
  •  The actions taken must be proportional to the criminal act they were defending against.
  •  A close temporal connection between the threat and the harm that’s being threatened.
  •  The defendant cannot be a party to the conspiracy or criminal organization linked to the attacker. For example, if a team of robbers turns on each other, they have no right to claim duress made them defend themselves.

What is Coercive Control?

Coercive control is a form of abuse or force used to influence another person’s actions against their interests. It can be accomplished via emotional, physical, verbal, or financial abuse. An offender may use coercive control as a way to humiliate, gaslight, intimidate, belittle, shame, exploit, isolate, or dominate another person without their express consent.

Warning signs of coercive control may include the following:

  •  Constantly monitoring an individual’s whereabouts.
  •  Controlling social media use and interactions.
  •  Extreme jealousy.
  •  Gaslighting.
  •  Limiting the food a person is allowed to eat.
  •  Restricting access to money.
  •  Sexual coercion.
  •  Suicide threats if a romantic partner breaks up with them.
  •  Threats to harm a family pet.

Is Coercive Control a Criminal Offence?

Very few countries have passed legislation recognizing coercive control as a criminal offence. Canada is not one of these such countries. This is a subject of controversy. Many people believe that coercive control should absolutely be a crime in Canada and that new laws should be passed to ensure this. The other side of the debate believes that there are other legal paths in place to protect people from coercive control, such as registering a protective order.

Those who are victims of coercive control can seek help from crisis centers.

Contact an Experienced Toronto Criminal Defence Lawyer About Your Murder Case Today

Duress is a complicated and unideal defence strategy to take. However, there are certain unique cases where it may be the most optimal legal strategy for a given situation. If you were placed in a position of life or death and forced to act, your lawyer would likely explore the potential of both a self-defence argument and a duress defence claim.

Criminal defence lawyer William Jaksa has over a decade of legal experience representing clients with legal issues under criminal law. To request a consultation with the lawyer, please get in touch with our law firm at 647-951-8078.

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