ANSWER: NO, AS IT'S HIS OWN FAULT HE CAN NOT COMPLY WITH THE OTHERWISE
LAWFUL ORDER TO GET A HAIRCUT.
This issue frequently arises in AWOL cases. In one case the accused argued that "his car
broke down as he left home for work, and he couldn't report to his unit for almost two days." The court
explained that it is a valid defense that the person was prevented from returning to work by sickness or
other disability, or a natural disaster. Here, however, the accused "made no legitimate effort to get
substitute transportation" and was at fault. Thus, the defense of impossibility or inability did not apply.
U.S. v. Lee, 14 MJ 633 (ACMR, 1982).
U.S. v. Williams, 21 MJ 360 (CMA, 1986), the accused failed to return from leave for three
years. While on leave, he lost his wallet, which contained his airline ticket, all of his money, and his
leave papers. The court explained that even if the defense initially applies, "it can be defeated if it is
shown that the accused did not exert sufficient effort to overcome the inability." Here, there was another
military base and a reception station within a few miles of his home. Thus, his absence for three years
was not "through no fault of his own."
E. Coercion/duress. "It is a defense to any offense except killing an innocent person that the
accused's participation in the offense was caused by a reasonable apprehension that the accused or
another innocent person would be immediately killed or would immediately suffer serious bodily injury
if the accused did not commit the act. The apprehension must reasonably continue throughout the
commission of the act. If the accused has any reasonable opportunity to avoid committing the act
without subjecting the accused or another innocent person to the harm threatened, this defense shall not
apply." (RCM 916(h).)
QUESTION: THE ACCUSED IS GIVEN A LAWFUL ORDER BY HIS COMMANDING OFFICER.
HE ARGUES THAT COMPLIANCE WITH THE ORDER WOULD SUBJECT HIM TO DANGER.
IS THIS A DEFENSE?
ANSWER: NO. THE COURT HELD THAT SUCH AN ARGUMENT "STRAINS CREDULITY."
U.S. V. TALTY, 17 MJ 1127 (NMCMR 1984).
It is not enough that the accused owed a debt and commits a crime (robbery, larceny, etc.) in order to
obtain the money to pay it. U.S. v. Barnes, 12 MJ 779 (ACMR 1981). It would be different if he not
only owed the money, but commits the crime because of an immediate threat to his wife. U.S. v.
Paulus, 13 MJ 179 (CMA 1982).
In one case, the accused was threatened by a group of people who discovered he was an undercover
informant. He went AWOL and then claimed duress. The court held it was no defense since he had not
informed the chain of command of the threat. He, therefore, had a reasonable opportunity to avoid any
injury by reporting the incident. U.S. v. Campfield, 17 MJ 715 (NMCMR 1983).