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November 13, 2023

Ohio case like Crawford with a similar (common law) result

A couple years ago, an Ohio intermediate appellate court resolved an appeal in a criminal case with a duress claim based on a set of facts somewhat similar to the Crawford case in our text. The Ohio court reached a similar result as in Crawford based on the common law's emphasis on the need for a threat being "imminent" for a duress claim to succeed.  The full opinion in State v. Womack, 2021-Ohio-1309 (Ohio App. 5th Dist. April 14, 2021), covers a number of legal issues, but the discussion of duress from paragraphs 46 to 56 is a pretty good account of the basics of Ohio law.  The duress discussion concludes this way:

Upon our review of the record, we agree with the trial court's conclusion that the evidence did not support Womack's contention that the affirmative defense of duress was applicable to the facts of the case.  We do not dispute that Womack subjectively believed he and his family were being threatened with imminent death or serious bodily injury. We note that the Sixth District Court of Appeals has recognized that duress may be found when the threat is made against the defendant's family.   State v. Cowan, 6th Dist. Wood No. WD-14-026, 2015-Ohio-2101, 2015 WL 3488289, ΒΆ 28; State v. Luff, 85 Ohio App.3d 785, 804, 621 N.E.2d 493 (6th Dist.1993) (stating that jury instruction on duress should have been given where defendant testified that someone threatened to destroy his family).  Our research indicates, however, that only the Sixth District Court of Appeals has extended the definition of duress to include the threat of imminent death or serious bodily injury to a defendant's family.  However, the force of harm threatened must be in the present; fear of future harm cannot be the basis for the threat of duress.  There was no evidence presented that Shot was a present threat to Womack's family, there was only a possible threat of future harm.

Womack's argument for application of the defense of duress fails because Womack had the ability to safely withdraw from the harm before committing the offenses of aggravated burglary and kidnapping.  He could have withdrawn or escaped after he arrived at M.B.'s home.  According to Womack's testimony, Shot and JT were on the side of the house while Womack was alone on the front porch.  Shot and JT were out of his view from the front porch.  There was no evidence that Shot was pointing his gun at Womack while Womack was on the front porch. M.B. testified that Womack entered her house alone and closed the front door.  In the home with only he and M.B. present, Womack could have asked M.B. for help or left the home through another door.  While on the front porch, Womack testified he tried to leave but he was pushed into the home by Shot and JT.  After Shot and JT entered the home, Womack testified he did in fact leave the home without expressing a fear of harm or even with the knowledge that any money was found, which would have released him from his debt to Shot.

The defense of duress is strictly and extremely limited in application.  Upon the facts of this case, we find the trial court did not abuse its discretion by not giving the jury instruction for duress.  We overrule Womack's third Assignment of Error.

November 13, 2023 in Notable real cases | Permalink


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