Duress Defense In California

The court in People v. Martin (1910) 13 Cal. App. 96, 102-103, 108 P. 1034 noted that duress was not available at common law as a defense to killing an innocent person, but it did not interpret the language at issue here and, moreover, held that duress was not available under the facts presented because the person was not in imminent danger. In People v. Petro (1936) 13 Cal. App. 2d 245, 247-248, 56 P.2d 984, the appellate court rejected a claim that the trial court erred in instructing that duress was not a defense to the charge of first degree murder which carried a penalty of death or life imprisonment. People v. Pena (1983) 149 Cal. App. 3d Supp. 14, 22, 197 Cal. Rptr. 264 merely recites that duress is not a defense to murder but does not construe section 26. People v. Son (2000) 79 Cal. App. 4th 224, 232-233 (review den.) also merely states that duress is not a defense to murder, citing Petro and Pena, without construing the language of section 26. In People v. Barker (1979) 94 Cal. App. 3d 321, 156 Cal. Rptr. 407, the court declined to reach the merits of the argument regarding the applicability of section 26 because the defendant discredited his own testimony of coercion. ( Id. at p. 333.) Finally, in People v. Moran (1974) 39 Cal. App. 3d 398, 416-417, 114 Cal. Rptr. 413, the court, in dicta and with no further analysis, said that section 26's exception for capital crimes was rendered meaningless by the abolition of the death penalty.