Forcing a New Perspective

Forcing a New Perspective In 2005, a gang associate by the name of Hasan was charged with the crime of aggravated burglary. His plea was that he was blackmailed into the commission of the crime to prevent harm towards his family and, accordingly, he relied on the defense of duress. This legal tactic is often raised when the defendant commits an act as a result of threats/bribes/ultimatums by another person or group. In “Hasan’s” case the defense couldn’t hold because he didn’t satisfy a key requirement of duress: “must enjoy no reasonable opportunity to escape the threatened harm” (Shankland). While the written law includes a clause that aids perpetrators under duress, the specific minutiae of the law is often ambiguous and doesn’t differentiate between moral and legal liability and responsibility. Therefore, under mental or physical coercion, the actor or puppet should be morally responsible and legally liable for his/her actions. Additionally, moral responsibility should be directly proportional to the severity of the perpetrator's actions even if they were coerced. Duress is not a “black and white” defense but includes many criteria and principles that complicate its lawful uses. Among these properties is the classification of duress as an “excuse” defense, implying that the action of criminal nature was bad but no responsibility will be accepted. Moreover, the elements of duress include: the defendant “must face an immediate threat of serious bodily injury”, “possess a well-grounded fear that the threat will be carried out”, and “enjoy no reasonable opportunity to escape the threatened harm” (Shankland). Adversely, the foundation for duress rejection is based on the theory of retribution, where societal harm deems proportional punishment. Relatedly, the felony-murder rule articulates that all deaths during a felony are applicable to all members connected with the felony. Altogether this indicates that duress if previously stated conditions are met, is applicable to all crimes except murder or unlawful killing. Aside from the moral argument of why coerced murder shouldn’t be liable, the rejection of murder with respect to duress could lead to misplaced guilt, defendant is guilty of the murder committed under duress but not the felony in a felony-murder case; accomplice liability, the victim is accountable for a coercer’s actions or death; capital punishment, given death for an action the defendant was unwilling to commit; and an overall contradiction to the fairness and predictability in law. (Shankland). Overall, defendants are prosecuted and punished for actions that they had no reasonable reason to actually commit; this indicates that there should be no legal liability for any act made under duress that satiates the elements of duress. On the other hand, current judicial standards are both deemed acceptable by Moral Penal Code (MPC) and statutory law and support duress rejection in murder cases (Finkelstein). This indicates that the law, which has a strong base in moral and logical reasoning, and its interpretation on murder, which is the only crime of major controversy, is in favor of duress rejection. While there's reason to believe this is absolute, based on the sound voluntarist conception, murder made under duress is not liable due to the loss of control in the actor under the circumstances (Finkelstein). Even though this is only one reason, the result of insufficient moral liability and a surplus of problems with duress rejection indicate a larger problem with the prosecution of coerced murder.Transitioning to the moral responsibility of coercive acts requires stating all methods of analysis and axioms of use. The main method of analysis used is based on utilitarianism or deciding between right or wrong base on the “utility”/consequence of an action (“The Nature of Morality and Moral Theories”). Additionally, The main principles of importance include: choice of evils, given the decision between two evils the actor will choose the lesser evil or the one that is better for society (Bazargan) , and Principle of Responsibility (PR), “an agent is morally responsible for everything she does intentionally” (Finkelstein). The proposition that an actor who intentionally, had a reason, did an act that was forced upon them is morally responsible or accountable is comparable to blaming a child for performing well under his/her parents’ pressure. Nonetheless, this proposition is based on the implications of the choice of evils and PR. Given the hypothetical of a murder case in which the defendant was given the choice between killing him/herself or an innocent, the morality is variable. Using a utilitarian view, the “utility” of either crime is based on the victim and their respective effect on society; this indicates killing a philanthropist has less utility than an impoverished person. This “utility” also indicates which murder is better for society and through its enactment, there is an innate moral responsibility for the action, and all of these cumulate into an affirmed responsibility that is vested onto the defendant. On the other hand, since the event is coerced, moral responsibility should be diminished from the actor and instead focused on the coercer. The coercer and restrictor of choices should be accountable for all of the consequences. This is a common assumption, but in actuality, the responsibility falls on all parties and this can be clarified in the hypothetical of an alleyway, as used in “Moral Coercion”. Thirty children in an alley find themselves at a dead end, and suddenly a bomb appears to fall from the top of a building, thrown off by a terrible character, arming when it hits the ground. Finally, a child throws the bomb down towards the innocent several meters away, effectively saving the group of children. The implication of this story is that the responsibility falls on the thrower for limiting the students’ choices but also the student for making the choice. This moral responsibility does not, however, imply liability and therefore is distinctly separate from the initial claim of no legal liability.  In conclusion, acts of coercive nature, while innately innocent and completely without accountability, require liability and responsibility with respect to moral and legal bounds. Whether it is the rejection of legal liability or the full acceptance of moral liability, there must be a stronger system of accountability in these cases. This push for change in duress, however, is a push for change in other legal defenses, a push for change for a lawful process, and a push for change in consideration of morality.