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  • Writer's pictureBlair Goss

What Is Coercion in Law? A Comprehensive Guide

Coercion can be considered an umbrella term for a wide range of actions. In fact, it can be classified as both a criminal offense and civil wrongdoing. Furthermore, anyone facing criminal charges can adopt a coercion defense strategy.


These concepts seem like a lot to take in, so what exactly is coercion in law, and what effects does it have on your criminal record? Let's jump right in!


What Is Coercion in Law?

What Is Coercion in Law?


Coercion involves using an express or implied threat of reprisal or violence. It also includes intimidating another person in such a way that they feel compelled to act against their will. Therefore, a threat of violence, actual violence or physical force, and other acts of pressure can all be considered coercion. However, to be classified as coercion, the act needs to subvert the other person's consent or free will.


In legal circumstances, many people use the terms "coercion" and "duress" interchangeably. This is because it's believed that someone who was coerced into doing something is acting under duress.


Bridging the gap between coercion and duress can be tricky and difficult to prove. One could argue that shrewd business contracts qualify as contract coercion. However, this is only the case if it can be demonstrated that the other party was under pressure to sign the contract. In a similar vein, establishing criminal coercion or intimidation depends on the incident's surrounding circumstances. In these kinds of situations, it could be subtle. This results in the legal team having to work much harder to prove the case.


Federal Coercion Laws


The US Code contains multiple provisions that deal with coercion, specifically employment and political participation. It appears in housing, trade, and sex trafficking as well. Lastly, coercion also exists in contract law. The following federal statutes deal with coercion:


Interference, Coercion, or Intimidation

This is addressed under the Fair Housing Act (FHA) and applies when someone takes action against someone for exercising or enjoying their rights or helping someone else enjoy their rights under the FHA.


Coercion on Political Activity

This includes threatening, intimidating, coercing, or commanding a federal employee to engage or not engage in political activity. Anyone found guilty of this may face up to three years in prison and a fine.


Protection from Coercive Contracts

If a contract requires a boxer to give a promoter certain rights to enable the boxer to participate in a professional tournament, this is considered coercive and renders the contract unenforceable.


Prohibition of Coercion

Government employees are prohibited from directly or indirectly coercing another worker regarding their medical leave rights and family. An example of this would be threatening the employee for trying to take leave.


Coercion and Enticement

This refers to sex trafficking and includes coercing an individual to travel across foreign or state boundaries to participate in prostitution or any illegal sexual activity. Anyone found guilty of this faces up to 20 years in prison and a fine. Furthermore, if the victim is a minor, they may face 10 years to life imprisonment.


Coercion Law in California


There are criminal charges and civil action for coercion in many states; for example, injunctive relief. Furthermore, most states adopt a similar definition of coercion, which includes using threats or intimidation to prevent or force someone to do something they have a legal right to participate or not participate in.


In California specifically, the district attorney or another government's attorney is allowed to seek a $25,000 civil penalty against those who coerced another individual into an act against their will.


Keep in mind that different states have different laws governing coercion. In New York, for example, first-degree coercion is considered a class D felony when the accused coerces someone into using physical force to harm another individual, violate their responsibility as a public servant, or commit a felony.


However, in Texas, trying to coerce a public servant into acting a certain way or influencing a voter to vote for a specific outcome is a class A misdemeanor. However, forcing someone to commit a felony is a third-degree felony. Goss Law can go over the difference and answer questions like What is the irresistible impulse test?


Using a Coercion Defense Against Criminal Charges


A coercion defense strategy is commonly used in criminal cases. Defendants often argue that they were pressured into committing a criminal offense. This defense can only be used if the defendant was not negligent.


In order to use this defense, the following elements need to be proved:


  1. An immediate threat of serious bodily harm existed.

  2. The defendant was forced to carry out the act and didn't have an opportunity to escape or avoid the situation.

  3. The accused had a reasonable fear that the threat would be carried out against them if they did not commit the act.


To succeed in the defense, all three elements must be proved, and sufficient evidence must be obtained.


What Is Contract Coercion?


A contract may be unlawful and unenforceable if it was entered into under duress, which commonly falls under threats of violence or reprisal. If it can be demonstrated that a single term was agreed upon under duress, the entire arrangement may be annulled, even in cases where the majority of the terms are lawful. The "unclean hands" concept states that if the other party engaged in forceful behavior, there may be a defense against claims of coercion.


Charged with Coercion? Contact an Experienced Lawyer Today!

Charged with Coercion? Contact an Experienced Lawyer Today!


Coercion is a complex area of law and anyone charged with a violation could be facing civil litigation, a criminal offense, and more. Therefore, anyone who has been charged with a coercion offense has the legal right to get the assistance of a knowledgeable criminal defense law firm to fight for their case.


It can be a hazy topic of criminal law, and many people use it to dispute any charges that they are facing. Alternatively, it could also be a component of an alleged crime. Coercion is commonly also involved in domestic violence cases.


Regardless of the particulars of the case, it's vital to hire professional criminal defense lawyers to handle the case. At Goss Law in Sacramento, California, our legal professionals are here to fight for your rights. Contact us today for a free consultation.

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