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Claiming Duress as a Defense in a Texas Criminal Case

Lawyer in Houston for the Duress Defense

When a person commits a crime because of threats to his or her life of the life of a person close to him or her, then that alleged offender may be able to claim duress as a defense against the criminal charges. Any person who has been coerced into breaking the law because of extreme kinds of pressure can avoid a conviction if he or she can prove that he or she was only complying with a demand to do something that he or she would not have done if acting on his or her own free will.

As a former Harris County Assistant District Attorney, Matt Horak has more than a dozen years of experience handling complex criminal cases involving these types of defenses. He can gather all of the necessary evidence to support any duress claims under Texas law . He knows the best ways to use this type of evidence to argue for the charges being significantly reduced or possibly even dismissed altogether.

Houston Lawyer for Duress Defenses

Have you been arrested in the greater Houston area for a crime that another party forced you to commit? Do not assume that a prosecutor or judge will automatically show you mercy when you explain your side of the story. Make sure that you have highly skilled legal counsel.

Horak Law represents clients in and around Harris County, including several nearby communities in Galveston County, Fort Bend County, Brazoria County, Montgomery County, Waller County, and Liberty County. You can receive a complete evaluation of your case that will help you understand all of your possible defense options when you call our firm at (713) 225-8000 or toll-free at (800) 225-8009 to schedule a free, confidential consultation.


Harris County Duress Defenses Information Center


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Texas Definition of Duress

State law recognizes that certain defenses that may justify otherwise criminal acts in certain circumstances. Duress is considered one of these types of defenses, and it is included in the list of general defenses under Title 2, Chapter 8 of the Texas Penal Code:

  • Duress, Texas Penal Code § 8.05 — This affirmative defense may be used if the alleged offender engaged in criminal conduct because he or she was compelled to do so by threat of imminent death or serious bodily injury to himself or herself or another. If the alleged offense is not a felony, the alleged offender may argue he or she engaged in the proscribed conduct because he or she was compelled to do so by force or threat of force.

An alleged offender cannot claim duress as a defense if he or she intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly placed him or herself in a situation in which it was probable that he or she would be subjected to compulsion, or if he or she acted at the command or persuasion of his or her spouse (unless the alleged conduct involved force or threat of force that rendered an alleged offender of reasonable firmness incapable of resisting the pressure).


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Proving Duress in Harris County

While the prosecution has the burden of proving an alleged offender’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, a person who attempts to use duress as a defense will have the burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that he or she only engaged in the criminal conduct because of an act of force or a threat of force. This defense is not available to alleged offenders who out themselves in situations in which they would have reasonably foreseen situations in which they would be expected to commit crimes.

Successful duress defenses will require proving either of the following scenarios occurred:

  • Threat of Imminent Death or Serious Bodily Injury — The term imminent means that an alleged offender was immediately facing possible death or serious injury if he or she did not carry out the criminal action. A threat of future consequences does not constitute duress.
  • Force or Threat Of Force — In non-felony cases, an alleged offender must have faced the threat of some type of physical harm to his or her person if he or she did not commit the criminal action. For example, the threat of being shot for failure to commit a crime would constitute duress, but the threat of having a car stolen for not agreeing to engage in criminal conduct would not.

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History of the Duress Defense

In Dixon v. United States, 548 U.S. 1 (2006), the United States Supreme Court reviewed whether the burden of proof is on a defendant to prove duress by a preponderance of the evidence or on the government to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that duress is not applicable when the defendant raises this affirmative defense.

In this case, Keshia Dixon claimed that her abusive boyfriend threatened to kill her or her children if she did not go to a Texas gun show and illegally purchase firearms using a false address and falsely stating that she was not under indictment for a felony. After a trial judge barred a witness who was prepared to testify that Dixon suffered from battered woman's syndrome, Dixon was convicted and appealed to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. The Circuit Court rejected the appeal on the basis that its previous cases clearly established that a defendant is required to prove duress by a preponderance of evidence, but the ruling conflicted a similar case in the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.

During oral arguments, Dixon’s lawyer said 29 states require prosecutors to disprove a duress defense, but 14 states required the alleged offenders to establish a duress or coercion defense. The Justices ultimately ruled in a 7-2 decision that the burden of proof being on the defendant did not violate the Due Process Clause of the United States Constitution.

In his opinion for the majority, Justice John Paul Stevens concluded:

Congress can, if it chooses, enact a duress defense that places the burden on the Government to disprove duress beyond a reasonable doubt. In light of Congress’ silence on the issue, however, it is up to the federal courts to effectuate the affirmative defense of duress as Congress “may have contemplated” it in an offense-specific context. Oakland Cannabis Buyers’ Cooperative, 532 U. S., at 491, n. 3. In the context of the firearms offenses at issue—as will usually be the case, given the long-established common-law rule—we presume that Congress intended the petitioner to bear the burden of proving the defense of duress by a preponderance of the evidence.


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Texas Duress Defense Resources

Dixon v. United States — This is a PDF file of the United States Supreme Court opinion in the 2006 duress case mentioned above. You can read about the background of the case as well as the majority opinion of Justice Stevens, the concurring opinions of Justice Anthony Kennedy and Justice Samuel Alito, and the dissent of Justice Stephen Breyer.

Texas Penal Code | General Defenses to Criminal Responsibility — Duress is among the defenses listed on this page of defenses under Title 2, Chapter 8 of the Texas Penal Code.

Entrapment Defense in Texas — Like the duress defense, the entrapment defense is an affirmative defense in Texas. Visit this article to learn more about the typical entrapment case that arises in Texas when the police use a confidential informant or undercover officer to manufacture a crime that would not have otherwise occurred. Also find more information on other affirmative defenses in Texas such as mistake of fact or intoxication defense.


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Find a Lawyer in Houston for the Duress Defense

If you have been charged with committing a crime because another party forced you to break the law, you will want to be sure that you immediately retain an extremely knowledgeable criminal defense attorney in Houston, Texas. Matt Horak is a former prosecutor who is board certified in Criminal Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, and he knows how to satisfy the burden of proving affirmative defense claims by a preponderance of evidence.

Horak Law serves areas throughout Texas, including Houston, League City, Spring, Sugar Land, Galveston, Richmond-Rosenberg, Pearland, The Woodlands, Pasadena, Missouri City, and Conroe. He will review your case and answer all of your legal questions during a free initial consultation as soon as you call our firm at (713) 225-8000 or toll-free at (800) 225-8009 today.


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Our Office in The Woodlands
1790 Hughes Landing Blvd #400 The Woodlands, TX 77380 (281) 907-4990
Our Office in Houston
5300 Memorial Dr #750 A Houston, TX 77007 (713) 225-8000
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Matt Horak Matt Horak is Board Certified in Criminal Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization since 2014