Duress Definition and Legal Meaning

On this page, you'll find the legal definition and meaning of Duress, written in plain English, along with examples of how it is used.

What is Duress?

n. Compelling someone to act against their wishes or interests through the use of force, false imprisonment or threats. A court may determine a document null and void if duress is used to get someone to execute a will or sign an agreement. Defendants may raise duress as their defense in partaking in an alleged crime. The most famous case is that of publishing heiress Patty Hearst, who was kidnapped, raped, imprisoned and psychologically tortured until she took part in a bank holdup with her captors and issued statements justifying her actions. She was later convicted of the bank robbery and was eventually pardoned by President Jimmy Carter.

History and Meaning of Duress

Duress is a legal term that refers to the use of force, threats or coercion by one person to compel another person to act against their will. The term has been used in legal settings for centuries and was originally used to describe situations where individuals were compelled to do something against their will, often in the context of contracts or agreements.

In modern legal settings, duress is commonly used as a defense in criminal cases, where a defendant claims that their actions were the result of being forced or threatened by another person. Duress can also be used as a challenge to the validity of certain legal documents or contracts, including wills and agreements.

Examples of Duress

  1. A woman is held against her will and forced to sign a will that leaves all of her assets to someone she does not wish to benefit from her estate. The woman's heirs could raise the issue of duress and seek to have the will declared null and void.

  2. A defendant in a criminal trial claims that he was forced to commit a crime under threat of violence. The defendant's lawyer may argue that the defendant acted under duress and should not be held responsible for his actions.

  3. A contract is signed between two parties, but one party later claims that they were coerced into signing the agreement and that the contract is not valid due to duress.

Legal Terms Similar to Duress

  1. Coercion - the use of pressure or threats to force someone to do something they do not want to do. Coercion is often used interchangeably with duress.

  2. Undue Influence - a legal concept that refers to situations where one party exerts significant pressure or influence over another party in order to gain an unfair advantage.

  3. Intimidation - the act of threatening or bullying someone in order to force them to do something they do not want to do. Intimidation can be a form of duress.