An experienced Maryland Criminal Attorney must have a thorough understanding of the defense of coercion and duress which is also called a necessity defense. I represented a defendant in the Circuit Court for Baltimore County Maryland today in which I investigated a necessity defense but ultimately concluded that such a defense was not viable under the particular facts of this case. Before going into the facts of my case today, here is a synopsis of the coercion and duress or necessity defense.
It is a defense to all crimes other than the taking of a life of an innocent person that the defendant acted under coercion or duress. The most common defense of this type is self-defense or its cousin, defense of others. It also applies to situtions where a person is coerced into committing a crime by an imminent and impending threat of death or serious bodily injury if the act is not committed. There also must not have been an opportunity to escape. If there was a legitmate opportunity to escape that is not acted upon, then the defense is not available. This is essentially the situation that I was faced with in my case and why I was unable to use the duress and coercion or necessity defense.
My client is an 18 year old boy with no prior criminal record. He came to me charged with Armed Robbery, First Degree Assault, Use of A Handgun in the Commission of a Crime of Violence and several lesser included offenses. In appearance he is small and slight and looks more like a member of the chess club that a violent armed felon. One day several months ago he was called by his 28 year old brother who has a long criminal record that includes both drug charges and crimes of violence. The brother asked my client to come pick him up to take him somewhere and the client agreed. When he arrived at his brother’s house the brother got into the car and told him they had to pick up a few friends. They drove to another house where two other men got into the car, one with a shotgun and one with a handgun. Both of these men are in their late twenties and like my client’s brother, have long violent criminal records.
At this point the three older men told my client that they intended to rob a Mcdonald’s restaurant. My client was scared and felt tremendous peer pressure at this point, but as his taped confession demonstrated, he was not threatened by the other men directly. He agreed to participate and drove the men to the Mcdonald’s. The other three men went into the restaurant, forced the employees into the freezer at gunpoint and made off with several thousand dollars in cash. My client waited in the car – by himself. It was this action by my client that ultimately prevented the use of the coercion/duress/necessity defense because he had a clear opportunity to escape and did not do so. His confession also made it clear that he was never actually threatened by the other men but an argument could possibly have been made that the situation was so inherently threatening that it amounted to coercion. But once he failed to escape when he had a chance he precluded the use of the necessity defense.