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Utah Code 76-2-302 - Compulsion

Under Utah law, a defendant cannot be convicted of a crime for conduct committed by the defendant if the defendant acted under compulsion. In analyzing such a defense to a Utah criminal prosecution, it is important to consider the language of the statute defining the defense of compulsion. In order to successfully raise this defense, the statutory elements must be strictly met. Consultation with an experienced criminal defense attorney is strongly encouraged.

Utah Compulsion Defense Defined

Utah Code 76-2-302(1) provides that a "person is not guilty of an offense when he engaged in the proscribed conduct because he was coerced to do so by the use or threatened imminent use of unlawful physical force upon him or a third person, which force or threatened force a person of reasonable firmness in his situation would not have resisted."

This standard requires more than mere peer pressure. Instead, to mount a successful compulsion defense, a defendant must present evidence to support each specific element of the statutory compulsion defense. These elements are discussed below.

Unlawful Physical Force: A compulsion defense requires evidence that the defendant committed the criminal act as a result of a threat of unlawful physical force. Threats of legal action, threats to reveal embarrassing information, threats to withhold financial support, or other threats not involving physical force or violence are not sufficient to meet the statutory requirements of a Utah compulsion defense.

Imminent Threat: The threat of physical force must be imminent. It is not sufficient that a threat is made to use force at some time in the indefinite future. The threat must be relatively immediate.

Force Against Defendant or Third Person: On this requirement, the statute is somewhat generous. A person may raise a compulsion defense even if the threat is made against a third person. For example, a threat to kill the defendant's child may serve to support a compulsion defense just as would a threat to kill the defendant. The statutory compulsion defense does not specifically distinguish between a threat made against the defendant and a threat made against a third person.

A Utah Compulsion Defense Exception

The defense of compulsion is not available to a criminal defendant in Utah if the evidence shows that the defendant "intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly" put himself in a situation where it is "probably that he will be subjected to duress." Consider the following hypothetical scenario:

Albert agrees with Bob to help rob a bank. The two enter the bank, Bob raises a gun in the air, and shouts, "Everybody get down on the floor." Bob then orders Albert to start tying up the tellers. At this point, Albert gets cold feet and tells Bob that he only signed up for a robbery, and doesn't want to participate in anything that could be seen as kidnapping. Bob threatens Albert, telling him that if he doesn't start tying up the tellers, Bob will start shooting hostages. Under this threatened use of unlawful force against the third-party hostages, Albert agrees to tie up the tellers.

In this scenario, Albert is in fact acting under the threatened use of unlawful force against third persons. Further, the nature of the threat is such that a person of reasonable firmness would likely have complied with Bob's demands. But even though these elements of a compulsion defense may be met, Albert cannot benefit from the compulsion defense with regard to a kidnapping charge if the jury believes that by agreeing to participate in the robbery, Albert put himself in a situation where it was "probable that he would be subjected to duress."

Common Law Compulsion Presumption Eliminated

Utah's law on the affirmative defense of compulsion specifically provides that a married woman is not, merely by reason of the presence of her husband at the time she commits a crime, to any presumption of compulsion or to any defense of compulsion. For a married woman to raise the defense of compulsion, a married woman must meet all of the ordinary elements of a compulsion defense.

Standing alone, this statutory language may seem strange and unnecessary, since the Utah criminal code generally treats all people equally, male and female, married and unmarried. To be properly understood, one must look at the old English common law regarding compulsion as it applied to married women.

Under the common law, a woman's actions taken in the presence of her husband could be presumed to have been taken under his dominion and will. Thus, the wife could be exempted from criminal punishment based on this presumed coercion. This common law defense of compulsion for a married woman was in turn based on long-since outdated and abandoned principles regarding marriage, property, and other rights of women.

While not specifically referencing the common law, the Utah criminal compulsion statute makes clear that this old common law presumption is no longer valid under Utah law.

Finding a Utah Criminal Defense Attorney in Salt Lake City

Salt Lake Defense AttorneyIf you are facing criminal charges, a good criminal attorney can be critical to developing a successful defense strategy. If you are contemplating raising the defense of compulsion, it is even more important to have an experienced criminal defense lawyer on your side.

Based in Salt Lake City, criminal defense attorney Stephen Howard has defended thousands of felony and misdemeanor cases during his career. He has achieved not guilty verdicts and dismissals for some of the most serious criminal charges on the books in Utah.

Contact us today to arrange for a confidential consultation.

Utah Code 76-2-101 - Mens Rea Requirements
Utah Code 76-2-303 - Entrapment as an Affirmative Defense
More Utah Criminal Code Provisions

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