In Latin, "A deed done by me against my will is not my deed," this phrase is a legal maxim which refers to circumstances of such extreme duress that they might be regarded in a criminal court of law to neutralise culpability on the part of the person who committed a crime. If, for example, someone forged a document while being held at gunpoint, or was given a morally impossible choice to make between which of two people to save while allowing another to die or to be grievously wounded, criminal culpability falls not with the person subjected to these conditions, but to the person(s) inflicting these conditions.

Examples of this maxim being invoked in criminal court are to be found in abundance, though courts vary in how rigourously the maxim defines its applicability. For example, in People of the Philippines vs. Joselito del Rosario y Pasacual, tried before the Kataas-taasang Hukuman in Manila:

The force contemplated must be so formidable as to reduce the actor to a mere instrument who acts not only without will but against his will. The duress, force, fear or intimidation must be present, imminent and impending, and of such nature as to induce a well-grounded apprehension of death or serious bodily harm if the act be done. A threat of future injury is not enough. The compulsion must be of such a character as to leave no opportunity for the accused for escape or self-defense in equal combat.

By this definition, it is insufficient for this defense to claim that the defendant had been threatened, and performed a crime in order to persuade the issuer of the threat to rescind the threat. The defendant must be in urgent, immediate, and obvious peril, or placed in a position of being forced to choose which of two or more other parties are to be subjected to harm, while helpless to prevent all harmful outcomes.

This maxim is closely related to another legal maxim, “actus non facit reum nisi mens sit rea,” meaning "the act does not constitute guilt unless done with a guilty intent," or "an act alone does not make someone guilty, if his mind is not guilty."

Iron Noder 2023, 2/30

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