Imagine a convict who was blackmailed into confessing to a crime (this blackmail happens prior to the crime). Not only that, they were also blackmailed into doing certain incriminating actions, such as e.g. transporting the corpse to a place, leaving it there, and being seen on CCTV footage leaving the area.

Now, after the convict has been convicted, if the video of the blackmail, along with the blackmail material, is published, can this ever be good enough to exonerate the convict, given that the convict also retracts their confession after the release?

If such a release would be sufficient (which I assume it would be in certain cases), my question is then the following:

When would it be sufficient? How weak would the evidence that the convict committed the crime have to be for this release to be sufficient on its own?

In certain cases, I guess the evidence could be strong enough that the release of the proof of blackmail wouldn't be good enough. Perhaps this is only true in cases where the evidence was sufficiently good that all confessions were superfluous to the proof of guilt?

Furthermore, a question of what even constitutes as "proof of blackmail" arises. I am simply imagining a video of the blackmailer telling the convict that they have to do "X" in order for "Y" not to be released. And then this video is released in conjunction with Y. Furthermore, if Y is undeniable proof that the convict did something of a nature far more grave and criminal than the crime they confessed to, this makes it very unlikely that the whole ordeal is a tactic to exonerate the convict, given that it would only put the convict in more legal and social trouble than their original conviction.

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    I am not sure wrongful conviction is the right tag, because even if under duress, the blackmailed person is still in on a plot to commit a crime, which is a crime in itself. The question is: does duress exonerate from being part of the plot?
    – Trish
    Sep 29, 2022 at 7:33
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  • @Trish Yeah I see that. Not sure on the nuances of the legalese involved, but they would be wrongfully convicted of the specific charges though? If they only moved the body, but had no part in killing them, then the murder charge would be wrongful (unless they'd count the convict as an accomplice). If the blackmail happened after the murder, then charging the convict with being an accomplice to murder would be wrongful. But yeah, I don't know if wrongful conviction applies to cases when conviction was right, but the charges were wrong (and thus, likely the punishment too).
    – user110391
    Sep 29, 2022 at 10:44
  • @Rick Helpful link, thanks! With that in mind, this convict would not have the right to be let off the hook completely (given that the blackmail in question involves blackmail material, and is thus not a threat to murder/physically harm them). However, whether or not the convict could be exonerated of the specific charges is still unknown to me.
    – user110391
    Sep 29, 2022 at 10:48
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    @user110391 the problem with conspiracy is: Every member of the conspiracy is guilty of all crimes committed by any member of the conspiracy. The question you ask is: is duress exonerating or preventing being part of a conspiracy?
    – Trish
    Sep 29, 2022 at 11:36

1 Answer 1


Under U.S. law, this would not alone be sufficient, although sometimes with additional facts it could be.

In addition to showing that the confession was obtained through blackmail, the convicted defendant would also have to show that:

  • The evidence that the confession was obtained through blackmail to take action serious enough and with threats that were credible enough, that no other choice was available to the defendant and that duress would bar the charges, is sufficiently credible;

  • the confession would have changed the outcome of the case on guilt/innocence if the case had been fully tried (which can be particularly tricky if the defendant was guilty of something even if not the crime of conviction);

  • the blackmail was such that it deprived the convicted defendant of an opportunity to raise this issue in the court process and preserved as a legal issue (if the issue could have been raised in the original case, but was not raised, this is not a basis for setting aside the conviction, and proving this is likely to be the hardest issue in the case);

  • the time limits for bringing challenges to the conviction not based upon government misconduct or misconduct by his own lawyer have not expired;

  • it is possible to remedy the wrongful conviction now in a meaningful way (usually this is the case due to the collateral effects of a conviction even if the sentence has been served, but not always).

I am deliberately omitting the exact legal standard of proof and duration of time for each of these points which is a highly technical area of the law.

The proceedings to set aside a wrongful conviction can also take a very long time. Five to twenty years after the conviction isn't uncommon. And, there is a fair amount of potential legal uncertainty, because most wrongful conviction cases involved alleged wrongdoing by the prosecution or alleged ineffective assistance of counsel by the defendant's lawyer. There is less case law and hence more room for novel legal issues with uncertain resolutions, when neither side's lawyer has done anything wrong.

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