Duress

Business, Legal & Accounting Glossary

Definition: Duress




What is the dictionary definition of Duress?

Dictionary Definition


n. the use of force, false imprisonment or threats (and possibly psychological torture or “brainwashing”) to compel someone to act contrary to his/her wishes or interests. If duress is used to get someone to sign an agreement or execute a will, a court may find the document null and void. A defendant in a criminal prosecution may raise the defense that others used duress to force him/her to take part 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 joined her captors in a bank holdup and issued statements justifying her actions. She was later convicted of the bank robbery, but was eventually pardoned by President Jimmy Carter.

  1. obsolete Harsh treatment.
  2. Constraint by threat.
  3. legal Restraint in which a person is influenced, whether by lawful or unlawful forceful compulsion of their liberty by monition or implementation of physical enforcement; legally for the incurring of civil liability, of a citizen’s arrest, or of subrogation, or illegally for the committing of an offence, of forcing a contract, or of using threats.

Full Definition of Duress


There are three defences which can be described as duress:

  • Duress by threat. The threat must be of death or serious personal injury. The defence is not available to threats against property. The accused must have had a reasonable belief in the threat and his decision to commit the crime in response must be reasonable. The defence will fail if the accused could reasonably have taken evasive action.
  • Duress by circumstances. For example reckless driving bourne out of a belief that you are being followed by potential assassins.
  • Necessity

The common law defence of duress is available to most criminal charges, with the notable exception of Murder. This means that, for example, a person who is forced by threats against himself or his family to place a bomb in a public place, which then explodes and kills someone, has no defence. If successful the defence of duress results in an acquittal.


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Duress. PayrollHeaven.com. Payroll & Accounting Heaven Ltd. https://payrollheaven.com/define/duress/ (accessed: September 21, 2021).
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Duress. PayrollHeaven.com. Retrieved September 21, 2021, from PayrollHeaven.com website: https://payrollheaven.com/define/duress/

Definition Sources


Definitions for Duress are sourced/syndicated and enhanced from:

  • A Dictionary of Economics (Oxford Quick Reference)
  • Oxford Dictionary Of Accounting
  • Oxford Dictionary Of Business & Management

This glossary post was last updated: 27th April, 2020 | 3 Views.