Affirmative defenses

Affirmative defenses

Part 1

Affirmative defenses are used to raise an issue separate from elements of a crime (Storm, 2012, p. 115). These defenses can be self-defense, duress, and involuntary intoxication. An excuse defense is the basis for affirmative defense that claims the defendant should be excused for their conduct (Storm, 2012, p. 118). These defenses can be mistake by law, voluntary intoxication, and mistake of fact. Despite using these defenses in court, some accused are still convicted of their crimes.

These defenses can be used in court to lessen or mitigate charges against the accused. If looking at a case of self-defense (affirmative), there is no motive.  Instead, the decision to commit the crime is solely to survive the moment and protect oneself.  For example, a woman who is abducted, brutally raped, and tortured kills her abductor after breaking free and escaping.  Due to her mind set on survival, her actions could be excused and she would be relieved of any criminal responsibility.

On the other hand, with a case of voluntary intoxication (excuse), the defense can try and argue the accused had no control or knowledge of his/her actions during the crime. The prosecution can then state the accused had control of their actions prior and decided to become intoxicated. As most states frown on the use of intoxication as a defense, it is usually used to reduce the severity of the crime charged, but not to relieve one of criminal responsibility (Storm, 2012, p. 159).

Part 2

Not being able to use duress as a defense for murder seems unreasonable, in my opinion. I do not know of any actual cases, but I have one question that will sum up my stance. Imagine yourself held at gunpoint and being told to kill or be killed.  Would you do it?

An actual example I can give (although fiction) is from Saw (2004). A victim named Amanda was trapped in a head device.  In order for her to get it off, she needed a key.  The key was inside the abdomen of her significant other, so under duress and for survival, she stabbed him over and over until she could fish it out. Although he died, does she belong in prison for a murder charge?

With this hypothetical case and movie scene, I think there are real life situations out there where duress played a big part in decision making.  Although duress may not relieve of criminal responsibility, I think it should still be allowed for defense as it has the ability to shed some light on why and how the crime happened.

Storm, L.M. (2012). Criminal Law. Available from

Burg, M. (Producer), & Wan, J (Director). (29 October 2004). Saw [Motion picture]. USA: Lionsgate Films

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