Evidence of Battering and the Defense of Duress

by the National Defense Center for Criminalized Survivors

March 2023

Lay and expert evidence on battering and its effectsi is often relevant to support a claim of duress or coercion. The defendant’s fear of imminent harm at the hands of her abuser may explain why she committed, participated in, or assisted her abuser and/or others in the commission of a wide variety of crimes, such as drug distribution, theft or fraud offenses, robbery, sexual or other abuse of her children, and murder (in jurisdictions that allow duress as a defense to murder). As in any other area where specialized knowledge is needed to help educate judge and jury (e.g., ballistics, eyewitness identification), a domestic violence expert is often needed in cases involving victim defendants asserting duress.

Evidence concerning the defendant’s experiences of abuse is relevant to a duress defense in much the same way as it is relevant to self-defense. In duress, as in self-defense, evidence of abuse is relevant to the reasonable person analysis.

Download EvidenceBatteringDefenseDuress2023.pdf