Duress Defense California Case Law

In People v. Pena, 149 Cal. App. 3d Supp. 14, the court observed that "it appears settled that the duress defense is available to a defendant charged with any crime except one which involves the taking of the life of an innocent person. Typical case authority for this proposition is represented by holdings such as the following: 'It is established by the great weight of authority that although coercion does not excuse taking the life of an innocent person, yet it does excuse in all lesser crimes.'We hold that duress is an affirmative defense to a crime other than murder, . . .' " (Id. at p. Supp. 22, italics in original.) In People v. Bacigalupo, 1 Cal. 4th 103, the Supreme Court observed that in Flannel, "we held that an honest but unreasonable belief in the need to defend oneself from imminent peril to life or great bodily injury negates malice aforethought, the requisite mental state for murder, thus reducing that offense to manslaughter. In reaching that result, we reasoned that a defendant who killed under an honestly held but mistaken belief that his own life was in peril, could not harbor malice, the requisite mental state for murder. The absence of malice did not provide a complete defense, but rather reduced the defendant's culpability from murder to the lesser offense of manslaughter." (People v. Bacigalupo, supra, at p. 126; see also People v. Anderson, supra, 233 Cal. App. 3d at p. 1663.)