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Death or drug delivery? Duress in criminal defense

This week, a man in Florida was found walking on the beach carrying $342,000 in marijuana. He said he had walked from Fort Lauderdale to the beach after a fight with his wife, then denied any connection to a 21-foot vessel which was found near where he was walking. The defendant then claimed that he had to bring the drugs into the United States or he was going to be killed.

According to the complaint, the U.S. border control searched the boat and removed 74 packages of marijuana or 193.6 kilograms. After being arrested and detained, the man explained that he had brought the boat and the drugs onto shore after his life was threatened.

The alleged drug smuggler said that he borrowed money from a Jamaican man, who he was unable to repay. Instead of repayment, the Jamaican man demanded that he deliver drugs to the United States. He said that he was followed into the states by two boats that turned around when he got to shore. He also claims that two men met him when he pulled the boat onto shore, but he ran and hid in a bathroom. When he returned to the beach, he was still trying to hide, according to the complaint.

While duress is a viable criminal defense, the defendant would have to show that the crime was only committed because he was under extreme unlawful pressure. It can be a complicated criminal defense, because the defendant would also have to admit guilt to committing the crime.

Palm Beach Post, "Man told authorities he was forced to import drugs or face death," Alexandra Seltzer, April 12, 2012.

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