Busted at the Border: Duress and Blind Mule Defenses in Border-Crossing Cases

Duress and blind mule defenses are often the only means to defend a case involving drugs or other illegal cargo brought into the United States. Although mostly seen in states on the border, the defenses also apply to domestic contraband cases. Walter I. Gonçalves, Jr. analyzes case law on the duress jury instruction, and points out that a jury’s rejection of a duress defense at trial does not preclude a sentencing court’s downward departure based on duress. Gonçalves provides a checklist for evaluating a blind mule case, and he discusses “structure” evidence and defense reliance on publicized examples of blind mules. Although a defense lawyer may dislike putting a client on the witness stand, the nature of duress and blind mule defenses makes it difficult to avoid doing so.