This section is from the book "The Law Of Contracts", by William Herbert Page. Also available from Amazon: Commercial Contracts: A Practical Guide to Deals, Contracts, Agreements and Promises.
On the question of whether to constitute duress the threatened imprisonment must be unlawful, the courts differ. If the threatened imprisonment is unlawful, duress exists.1 A threat by one partner to institute criminal proceedings against another partner for drawing funds from the partnership, may amount to duress.2 If the threat is of lawful imprisonment, but it is unlawfully used to obtain the contract, duress exists.3 A threat by the attorney of one who is in prison under a criminal charge, to postpone the trial and to prevent the release of the prisoner, may amount to duress.4 Abuse of criminal process, whereby one is coerced into giving a note,5 is clearly duress. If the threat is of lawful imprisonment and it is not intended to make unlawful use thereof in coercing the prisoner, the courts are divided as to whether duress exists. The majority hold that if the threat of imprisonment overpowers the mind of the person upon whom duress is exerted, duress exists.6 A minority hold that a threat of lawful imprisonment made in good faith without the intent of extorting the contract in question thereby, is not duress.7 The effect of the guilt or innocence of the person whose arrest and criminal prosecution is threatened is another question on which the courts do not agree. If the charge is a false and trumped-up one," duress exists,8 though some courts which adhere to the old test that the threats must be such as to overpower a reasonably firm man seem to hold that under ordinary circumstances a false criminal charge against an innocent man can not be duress.9 If the warrant for arrest is issued not bona fide, but for purposes of intimidation, duress exists and the question of the guilt or innocence of the accused is immaterial.10 If a warrant for the arrest of a debtor is issued by a justice of the peace who is the president of a creditor corporation, duress exists for which a conveyance by the wife of the debtor may be set aside.11 A statement by one who is dressed as a policeman that he will imprison A unless a certain claim against A is paid, may amount to the duress of A's parents.12 If it is a bona fide charge some courts hold that duress does not exist, even though the accused may prove to be
1 Bailey v. Devine, 123 Ga. 653, 107 Am. St. Rep. 153, 51 S. E. 603; Bane v. Detrick, 52 III. 19; Landa v. Obert, 78 Tex. 33, 14 S. W. 297.
2Greenwell v. Negley (Ky.), 101 S. W. 961.
3 Alabama. Hartford, etc., Ins. Co. v. Kirkpatrick, 111 Ala. 456, 20 So. 651.
Georgia. Jordan v. Beecher, 143 Ga. 143, L. R. A. 1915D, 1122, 84 S. E. 549.
Idaho. Wilbur v. Blanchard, 22 Ida. 517, 126 Pac. 1069.
Massachusetts. Anthony & Cowell Co. v. Brown, 214 Mass. 439, 101 N. E. 1056.
New Hampshire. Richardson v. Duncan, 3 N. H. 508.
New York. Adams v. Bank, 116 N. Y. 606, 15 Am. St. Rep. 447, 6 L. R. A. 491, 23 N. E. 7.
4 Bailey v. Devine, 123 Ga. 653, 107 Am. St. Rep. 153, 51 S. E. 603.
5Behl v. Schuett, 104 Wis. 76, 80 N. W. 73.
6England. Williams v. Bayley, L. R. 1 H. L. 200.
Alabama. Hartford, etc., Ins. Co. v. Kirkpatrick, 111 Ala. 456, 20 So. 651.
Connecticut. Sharon v. Gager, 46 Conn. 189.
Florida. Burton v. McMillan, 52 Fla. 469, 120 Am. St. Rep. 220, 8 L. R. A. (N.S.) 991, 42 So. 849.
Idaho. Wilbur v. Blanchard, 22 Ida. 517, 126 Pac. 1069.
Illinois. Bane v. Detrick, 52 111. 19.
Kansas. Thompson v. Niggley, 53 Kan. 664, 26 L. R. A. 803, 35 Pac. 290; Heaton v. Bank, 59 Kan. 281, 52 Pac. 876.
Massachusetts. Taylor v. Jacques, 106 Mass. 291; Harris v. Carmody, 131 Mass. 51; Bryant v. Peck, etc., Co., 154 Mass. 460, 28 N. E. 678; Morse v. Wood-worth, 155 Mass. 233, 248, 27 N. E. 1010, 29 N. E. 525.
Michigan. Miller v. Lumber Co., 98 Mich. 163, 39 Am. St. Rep. 524, 57 N. W. 101.
Missouri. Davis v. Luster, 64 Mo. 43.
New York. Eadie v. Slimmon, 26 N. Y. 9, 82 Am. Rep. 395; Schoener v. Lissauer, 107 N. Y. 111, 13 N. E. 741; Adams v. Bank, 116 N. Y. 606, 15 Am. St. Rep. 447, 6 L. R. A. 491, 23 N. E. 7.
Ohio. Springfield, etc., Ins. Co. v. Hull, 51 O. S. 270, 46 Am. St. Rep. 571, 25 L. R. A. 37, 37 N. E. 1116.
Oregon. Kohler & Chase Co. v. Savage, 86 Or. 639, 167 Pac. 789.
Rhode Island. Foley v. Greene, 14 R. I. 618, 51 Am. Rep. 419.
Texas. Phelps v. Zuschlag, 34 Tex. 371.
Wisconsin. Fay v. Oatley, 6 Wis. 42.
7 United States. Gregor v. Hyde, 62 Fed. 107.
Georgia. Bailey v. Devine, 123 Ga. 653, 107 Am. St. Rep. 153, 51 S. E. 603. (Obiter, since imprisonment was here unlawful.)
Illinois. Compton v. Bank, 96 111. 301, 36 Am. Rep. 147.
Maine. Eddy v. Herrin, 17 Me. 338, 35 Am. Dec. 261; Harmon v. Harmon, 61 Me. 227, 14 Am.. Rep. 556.
Nebraska. Mundy v. Whittemore, 15 Neb. 647, 19 N. W. 694; Sanford v. Sornborger, 26 Neb. 295, 41 N. W. 1102; Machine Co. v. Miller, 54 Neb. 644, 74 N. W. 1061.
New Hampshire. Nealley v. Green-ough, 25 N. H. 325.
New Jersey, Bodine v. Morgan, 37
N. J. Eq. 426; Clark v. Turnbull, 47 N. J. L. 265, 54 Am. Rep. 157.
New York. Knapp v. Hyde, 60 Barb. 80; Barrett v. Weber, 125 N. Y. 18, 25 N. E. 1068.
Pennsylvania. Fountain v. Bigham, 235 Pa. St. 35, 84 Atl. 131.
Texas. Landa v. Obert, 45 Tex. 539.
West Virginia. Bolyard v. Bolyard, 79 W. Va. 554, L. R. A. 1917D, 440, 91 S. E. 529. See Sec. 484.
8Lighthall v. Moore, 2 Colo. App. 554, 31 Pac. 511; James v. Roberts, 18 Ohio 548; Springfield, etc., Ins. Co. v. Hull, 51 O. S. 270, 46 Am. St. Rep. 571, 25 L. R. A. 37, 37 N. E. 1116.
9 Horton v. Bloedorn, 37 Neb. 666, 56 N. W. 321.
10 Morrill v. Nightingale, 93 Cal. 452, 27 Am. St. Rep. 207, 28 Pac. 1068.
11 Jordan v. Beecher, 143 Ga. 143, L. R. A. 1915D, 1122, 84 S. E. 549.
12 Anthony & Cowell Co. v. Brown, 214 Mass. 439, 101 N. E. 1056.
innocent;13 others hold that duress may exist, if the mind of the promisor is in fact overpowered.14 Again, if the party accused is guilty, some courts hold that a threat of criminal prosecution can not be duress;15 while other courts hold that it can be duress.16 The cases which take this last-mentioned view, however, are mainly cases in which a threat to arrest and prosecute one person forms the means of intimidating another.17 The fact that the person who is threatened with criminal prosecution is in fact innocent, does not prevent the threat of criminal prosecution from amounting to duress.18 In Illinois the view has been expressed that if the accused is innocent, and knows that there is no legal ground for his arrest, and no warrant has issued and no proceedings commenced, a threat of arrest is not duress.19