DURESS (OF. dance, duresse, It. durena, from Lat. duritia, severity, front hard). That degree and kind of coercion, exer cised over a person's will, which entitles him to avoid any contract, deed, or transfer of property made during its continuance, or which excuses his criminal acts.
As an excuse for crime, duress is narrowly limited by the common law. The victim of the coercion must show that lie was driven to min mit the act by threats of personal violence to hint which induced a well-grounded appr•hen shin of present death or grievous bodily harm. Even such threats would not excuse his killing an innocent person, for the view of the law was that he ought rather to die himself than escape by the murder of an innocent man. He 'would he justified. however, in killing his eoercer. Mod ern statutes in sonic of the United States declare such extreme duress an excuse even for homicide (q.v.).
In civil matters, also. the common-law doctrine of duress is confined within rather narrow limits. Not every form of constraint, unfairly imposed by one party to a contract upon the other, will enable the victim to avoid the contract. Only actual or threatened violence or imprisionnent amounts to common-law duress. :Moreover, it must be exercised upon the person who makes the contract, or upon the husband, wife, parent, or child of such person; and it avast be exercised or instigated or adopted by the one to be bene fited by the contract. Still again, the threats must be of grievous bodily harm and so made as tc terrorize a man of ordinary nerve and cour age; or they must lie of unlawful imprison ment.
The doctrine has been somewhat extended in this country. According to the prevailing view, a person is tinder duress who is threatened with lawful impriSonnient, provided the threat is made to overcome his will. and does overcome it. and is such as would naturally overeome the will of On ordinary man. A contract made by him in such ciretunstances does not have his free and true consent. It is imposed upon him by the threatener. and is voidable.
A threat to detain or even to destroy property cannot operate as duress according to the nar row- view of the ancient common law. In sonic of our States, however, duress of is recog nized. and an owner who promises to pay exactions in order to obtain possession of his property is allowed to avoid the promise. Even where the old common-law doctrine pre vails, the owner who Lois paid such exaction.; may recover the money on the ground that the defendant had received money which belonged to the plaintiff. There must, be actual constraint to justify a recovery in such a ease. Payment of an illegal claim 'under protest' is a .oluntary payment and will stand. unless it was enforced by actual detainer of property or per son, or imminent danger thereof. See QuAsi CONTRACT. See al-o t'NFO'17 INFLUENCE: CON SENT: and consult the authorities referred to under CONTRAcr.