The short answer is that coercion or duress can be legal defenses to drunk driving. However, the reality is that it would be very difficult to convince a jury that you drove under the influence of alcohol because of a threat of harm. Coercion can be a strong legal defense to other types of criminal charges but it may be a stretch to claim coercion was the reason why you were arrested for drunk driving.
If you want to know whether your situation might qualify for a valid defense or you want to know what legal defense strategies would work best in your situation, talk to an experienced East Bay DUI defense lawyer as soon as possible.
What Are Coercion and Duress?
Duress, coercion, threats, necessity, and compulsion are terms that law students learn when studying criminal law. These can be defenses to criminal charges. If the prosecutor says you stole a car, it may be a defense if you were forced to steal the car because you were being threatened with physical harm. If you really believed you were going to be harmed if you didn't steal a car, then the jury may be able to excuse you from the criminal charges.
What Are the Elements of Duress?
According to the Judicial Council of California Criminal Jury Instructions, No. 3402, a defendant is not guilty of a crime if they acted under duress. Acting under duress means that:
- Because of a threat or menace;
- The defendant believed that their life or someone else's life;
- Would be in immediate danger;
- If they refused a demand or request to commit the crime.
The threat of danger to life must be reasonable. For example, if someone told you that you had to drive them home while you were drunk otherwise they would throw your mother in the Nile, that may not be reasonable if your mother is at home in California. The threat also has to be imminent, and not just some vague future threat.
A threat of harm is not enough. If someone threatens to hit you or beat you up, that may not be considered enough for a defense of duress. The danger must be an imminent danger to life.
How Do You Prove Duress in a Drunk Driving Case?
In most drunk driving criminal cases, the case is heard before a jury of your peers. This means people who are made up of the community. After you present your case to the jury and the prosecutor presents their case, the judge will give the jury a set of instructions.
First, the judge will present the jury instructions for the drunk driving case. If the jury finds the prosecutor did not prove all the elements beyond a reasonable doubt, you should be found not guilty. However, if the jury thinks you are guilty of drunk driving, the judge can present the instructions for a defense of duress.
For the defense of duress to work, the jury would have to find that the reason you drove drunk was that someone made a reasonable and immediate threat to your life or someone else's life if you refused to get behind the wheel and drive while impaired.
Not surprisingly, this could be a tough defense to sell. It is not common for people to go around threatening someone's life unless they drive drunk. Unless this actually happened and there is some evidence to support your claim, you may be better off with a different defense.
When Does Duress Work?
An example of a type of criminal charge where duress could be a valid defense might be if someone robbed a bank. You may have even seen this in movies, where bank robbers take someone's family hostage, telling the victim they have to rob the bank and bring back the money otherwise the family will be killed.
If someone is threatening the life of another, the stakes are usually pretty high (higher than getting a ride from a drunk driver).
When Is Duress Not a Defense?
Duress cannot be used as a defense to some criminal charges. For example, in California, duress is not a valid defense to crimes punishable by death, or capital crimes. Capital crimes in California are generally limited to first-degree murder. There are other capital offenses that are less common, like treason, interfering with U.S. war plans, or fatal train sabotage.
If someone is charged with murder under California Penal Code 187, they could not raise the defense of duress. Even if someone threatened to shoot you unless you committed a murder, the law would generally not consider that a legal defense.
What Legal Defenses Should I Use in a Drunk Driving Case?
There is no reason to go out on a limb and try for questionable defenses like duress or coercion. There are more common legal defenses available in your case that can give you a better chance of avoiding a conviction.
For example, chemical breath and blood testing devices are not always as accurate as the police believe. Your attorney can show problems with the way the police conducted the tests that may have resulted in inaccurate test results. Other defenses include a lack of probable cause and faulty standardized field sobriety tests (SFTS).
If you want to know what legal defenses can help your case, talk to an experienced East Bay DUI defense attorney with experience handling cases just like yours. Find an East Bay trial attorney who has successfully defended Oakland drivers charged with DUIs. If you got a DUI in Oakland or Alameda County, call attorney Lynn Gorelick at 510-785-1444 or 925-847-3006.