People v. Anderson

Supreme Court of California, 2002.

28 Cal.4th 767, 122 Cal.Rptr.2d 587, 50 P.3d 368.


Facts: The defendant killed the victim due to an alleged threat of serious bodily harm from another person.The defendant was convicted of first-degree murder.The defendant appealed on the basis that California statute allowed the duress defense for any crime except offenses punishable by death, or, alternatively, that duress is a partial excuse that should reduce first-degree murder to a lesser offense.


Issue: Is duress a defense to murder?


Rule: At common law, duress was not a defense to murder.Under California statute, duress was not a defense to any crime punishable by death.At the time of that statute, all first-degree murder was punishable by death.


Analysis: The court reasons that the legislature did not intend the duress defense to change in applicability with every change in the application of capital punishment.The courtís major policy concern is with gang violence, which was not the context of this case at all.The court fears that in a gang structure, the underlings could murder with impunity by arguing that they were under duress from their superiors in the criminal enterprise.


The dissent believes that the legislature did intend to let the application of the duress defense to change with the application of capital punishment.


Conclusion: The conviction is upheld.


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