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Thursday, June 22, 2006

Dixon: Duress Burden on Defendant

In U.S. v.Dixon, No. 05-7053 (June 22, 2006), the Supreme Court held that Due Process is not violated when a jury instruction places the burden of persuasion on a defendant to establish by a preponderance of the evidence a defense of duress to a charge of receiving a firearm while under indictment and making false statements in connection with the acquisition of a firearm. The Court further held tha t, considering the duress defense Congress "may have contemplated" when it created these specific offenses, the Court could presume that Congress intended for a defendant to establish the duress defense by a preponderance of the evidence.
The Court noted that a duress defense may excuse conduct that is otherwise punishable, but normally does not controvert any of the elements of the offense itself. Consequently, shifting the burden to the defendant did not run afoul of the due process requirement that the government prove all elements of the offense.
The Court noted that the long-established common law rule was the defendant bore the burden of proof on duress. The Court rejected the argument that this common-law rule had been uniformly reversed in more recent years, pointing out that Congress did not adopt the different rule proposed by the Model Penal Code, and that the Circuits were split on the burden issue. The Court held that the relevant inquiry was what Congress "may have contemplated" when it enacted the statute. The Court found that Congress most likely contemplated the long-established common law rule.