The Right to a Defense
Every accused has the right to any and all defenses the law recognizes and permits—e.g., insanity, mistake of fact, or self-defense. An accused having the right to resort to several defenses may make an election as to the one on which he or she will rely. The fact that one undertakes a crime on the advice, or as the agent, of another is not a defense; on the other hand, except in the case of homicide, an act that would otherwise constitute a crime may be excused when committed under duress or compulsion that is present, imminent, and impending, and that produces a well-grounded apprehension of death or serious bodily harm if the act is not done (see coercion). Religious belief is not ordinarily a justification or excuse for the commission of a crime (see bigamy).
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The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.