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What Does Under Duress Mean (Explained: All You Need To Know)

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What Does Under Duress Mean

In law, under duress refers to a situation where someone is forced, coerced, or threatened to do something against the person’s will.

In other words, when a person is forced to do something under duress, it means that the person would not have normally acted or behaved that way.

The word “duress” is defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary as “forcible restraint or restriction” or “compulsion by threat”.

So when you are under duress, it means that you are under pressure to do something or you are threatened to do something.

Keep reading as I will break down the meaning of being under duress in both criminal law and civil law.

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Under Duress In Criminal Law

In criminal law, there are cases where a criminal defendant will raise the argument of having acted under duress when committing a crime.

In other words, the argument is that the accused committed the crime as he or she was “forced” to act that way, be violent, or break the law.

For example, if a person’s life is threatened, the person may choose to commit a crime to “save” his or her life.

In this context, the criminal defendant did not have the intention of committing a crime but only acted in that manner to avoid physical harm.

For a criminal defendant to prove that the crime was committed while under duress, the circumstances surrounding the “force” or “coercion” must be demonstrated.

Under Duress In Civil Law

In civil law, the under duress notion is also used in important ways, particularly in contracts.

A contract, by definition, is an agreement reached by two or more contracting parties.

However, there are cases when a person is forced to sign a contract against his or her will.

If a person was coerced to sign a contract, then the victim may petition the court to have the contract invalidated.

For a contract to be legally formed, there must be an offer and acceptance, consideration, legal capacity, and legality.

When a contract is signed under duress, the offeree may not have validly accepted the contract and only signed the contract to avoid physical or psychological harm for instance.

Duress can also affect the contract consideration where one party benefits while the other party does not.

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Under Duress In Contract Law

In contract law, duress is a type of defense that can be brought in court in an attempt to invalidate a contract.

Let’s look at the main types of duress in contract law.

Economic Duress

In business, particularly in the context of commercial contracts, a party may use economic duress to influence or pressure a party to sign a contract.

For example, a company may grant a loan with an illegal rate of interest to a borrower who is close to being financially ruined.

In this context, the company abuses the borrower’s economic hardship to have the borrower accept a loan with terms that he or she would have otherwise refused.

Another example is when a company is fully dependent on one client to survive and the client, in bad faith, demands a 50% price discount to continue doing business with the same.

In this case, the vendor may accept a very high discount just to avoid worsening their financial position.

Although it’s very difficult to prove duress in business as contracting parties should be diligent in assessing the risks of signing contracts and entering into commercial engagements, in exceptional cases, the courts may consider economic duress arguments to invalidate a contract.

To succeed with the economic duress argument in court, the following elements are generally required:

  • There was a threat
  • You had no other alternative to accept the contract
  • The threat actually made you get into a contract
  • The other party was responsible for your financial distress 

Make sure you consult with a qualified attorney to assess your case before making any decision.

Duress To The Person

Duress to the person is an instance when a person signs a contract following threats or actual violence to his or her person.

For example, a person is asked to sign a contract to avoid being beaten up or killed.

When a person signs a contract to avoid physical harm, the court will not legally enforce that contract.

Duress To Goods

Another type of duress in contract law is duress to goods.

When there’s duress to goods, a party will ask another party to sign a contract under the threat of causing damages to the person’s property.

For example, a person is asked to sign a contract to avoid having his or her house put on fire.

Another example is for a person to illegally withhold someone’s property until the contract is signed.

Under Duress Requirements 

Presenting duress arguments in court can be quite challenging as you must demonstrate that you acted against your will due to another person’s threats or pressure.

In essence, you must prove why you did something but you did not have the intention of doing that thing.

Although the rules in every jurisdiction can vary, you should be prepared to present the following elements to prove that you were under duress:

  • You were threatened 
  • The threats were so grave that you were compelled to sign the document
  • Without the threat, you would not have signed the document
  • When you signed, you were acting on the basis of the threat and pressure
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Takeaways 

So there you have it folks!

Under duress means that you were forced to do something under the threat of or actual violence, or another form of pressure.

For example, if a person is asked to commit a crime to prevent physical harm to his or her family members, the person will commit a crime under duress.

In contracts, a person may threaten to hurt the other person if he or she refuses to sign the contract.

These are situations where a person acts in a way to avoid physical, psychological, or economic hardship.

Now that you know what under duress means, good luck in your research!

Editorial Staff
Hello Nation! I'm a lawyer by trade and an entrepreneur by spirit. I specialize in law, business, marketing, and technology (and love it!). I'm an expert SEO and content marketer where I deeply enjoy writing content in highly competitive fields. On this blog, I share my experiences, knowledge, and provide you with golden nuggets of useful information. Enjoy!

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