What is Coercion?
The word coercion shows up in a lot of statutes in both state and federal court. You’ll often see it along with other words like fraud, force, or threats, but really coercion can be any of those things. That’s because coercion is the act of persuading someone else to do something they don’t want to do because of force, threats, psychological intimidation, or anything else that violate the free will of an individual to get a desired outcome or response.
An example of coercion via physical means is this:
An old farmer lives nearby his nephew and his young wife. They have a young daughter. The wife considers the farmer to be a grandfather figure, though she was warned by family that he could get violent when angry. One day, while her husband was out, the farmer came over and tried to force himself on the wife, gripping her hands above her head as she tried to get away. After she reported the attack, the farmer was charged with Fourth Degree Criminal Sexual Conduct under Minnesota Statute 609.345, subd.1(c) (click here for more details on the statue).
That statute defines criminal sexual conduct in the fourth degree as sexual contact by an actor who uses force or coercion to accomplish the sexual act. The Supreme Court of Minnesota was asked to further explain coercion in the farmer’s case that he appealed after conviction. The Court said that coercion is defined as “words or circumstances that cause the complainant reasonably to fear that the actor will inflict bodily harm or, hold in confinement, the complainant or another,” and that in that case, when the farmer caused her fear of being hurt while forcing himself on her, that was coercion. State v. Middleton, 386 N.W. 2d 226 (1986).
An example of coercion by other means is this:
A young man is at home, getting ready for work, when police barge in and arrest him. He’s hauled down to the station and harshly interrogated by police: cut off from the outside world; repeatedly told that he is guilty and has no other option; not given access to a lawyer. He’s brought into a room and a witness identifies him as the perpetrator. After hours of stress and without any legal advice, the man signs a confession and is charged with kidnapping and rape.
That man’s case went up to the United States Supreme Court, which found that the police used psychological coercion to get the man, Ernesto Miranda, to sign the confession. Supreme Court Justice Warren ruled that “coercion can be mental as well as physical and that the blood of the accused is not the only hallmark of an unconstitutional inquisition.” Miranda v. Arizona 384 U.S. 436, 448 (1966). It was because of this ruling that police are now required to advise arrestees of their right to remain silent and to a lawyer.
Coercion is illegal because people have the right to be safe and make decisions without fear of repercussions, whether they be physical violence, psychological pressure, or financial ruin. However, it remains the Government’s burden to prove that coercion has taken place, and in any criminal matter, the defendant has the presumption of innocence. Sometimes coercion is obvious, and sometimes the Government sees it when it is not there.
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