Legal Dictionary


Legal Definition of duress


  1. Where a person is prevented from acting (or not acting) according to their free will, by threats or force of another, it is said to be "under duress". Contracts signed under duress are voidable and, in may places, you cannot be convicted of a crime if you can prove that you were forced or threatened into committing the crime (although this defence may not be available for serious crimes).

Definition of duress


    Latin durus, hard


  • Rhymes: -ɛs



  1. Being constrained by threat.

Further reading

Duress or coercion (as a term of jurisprudence) is a possible legal defense, one of four of the most important justification defenses[1], by which defendants argue that they should not be held liable because the actions that broke the law were only performed out of an immediate fear of injury. Black's Law Dictionary (6th ed.) defines duress as "any unlawful threat or coercion used... to induce another to act [or not act] in a manner [they] otherwise would not [or would]." The notion of duress must be distinguished both from undue influence in the civil law and from necessity which might be described as a form of duress by force of circumstances. Note that in criminal law, a duress defense is similar to a plea of guilty, admitting partial culpability, so it could possibly lead to an easy conviction. Of a criminal

Duress or coercion can also be raised in an allegation of rape]] or sexual assault to negate a defence of consent on the part of the person making the allegation.


In order for duress to qualify as a defense, four requirements must be met:[1]

  1. Threat must be of serious bodily harm or death
  2. Harm threatened must be greater than the harm caused by the crime
  3. Threat must be immediate and inescapable
  4. The defendant must have become involved in the situation through no fault of his or her own

A person may also raise a duress defense when force or violence is used to compel him to enter into a contract, or to discharge one.

The defense cannot be used for cases of murder [although in the case of Re A, doctors successfully applied to the Court of Appeal for permission to split conjoined twins, saving one of them and essentially murdering the other, this was later seen as a case of pure necessity] (even for participants of a murder [following Howe (1987)]), cases of attempted murder (stated in the obiter dicta of Howe (1987) and confirmed in the case of Gotts (1992)) and some forms of treason. (Cases are in reference to the case law of England and Wales.)


  1. Gaines, Larry; Miller, LeRoy (2006). Criminal Justice In Action: The Core. Thomson/Wadsworth. ISBN 0-495-00305-0.


  1. Wiktionary. Published under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.


1.     lex fori
2.     lex situs
3.     lex causae
4.     conclusive presumption
5.     AORO
6.     landed property
7.     lex domicilii
8.     Miranda warning
9.     lex loci delicti commissi
10.     Clayton's Case