DEFINITION of 'Duress'

The act of using force, false imprisonment, coercion, threats or psychological pressure to compel someone to act contrary to his or her wishes or interests. Duress is also used as a form of defense to a crime by a defendant who is compelled or coerced to commit the crime because they are under serious imminent harm to themselves or others.

For example, if Bob makes unlawful threats or engages in a coercive behavior that causes his Aunt Sally to sign an agreement or execute a will against her will, then Bob is causing Aunt Sally to be "under duress."


If duress is used to make a person commit a crime or do something against their will, the defendant in a criminal prosecution may raise the defense that others used duress to force him or her to take part in the crime.

Duress occurs when a person is prevented from acting (or not acting) according to free will. Forms of duress could fall under threatened physical harm or economic duress.

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