In a case known as State v. Cole in 1991, necessity came into play as a legal defense. In this case, a defendant was convicted after they were caught driving with a suspended license for traveling to a telephone to call help for his wife, who was having her child. His wife was experiencing immense pain and he was sure that the child was coming, so he had no choice but to call help. He tried calling his only neighbor, but unfortunately nobody was home to help him so he was forced to drive a mile and a half to a phone to call his mother-in-law. However, on the way home, he was stopped by the police for a broken taillight and it was discovered that he was driving with a suspended license. He was arrested immediately. It was found, in the end, that circumstances forced the defendant to engage in illegal conduct, in this case driving a vehicle when he wasn’t supposed to. For the case of many people, this happens every year.
So, you may wonder, what is necessity in a legal case? When somebody commits an illegal act during an emergency situation in order to prevent greater harm from happening, this is necessity. The courts will usually find that these acts were justified and the criminal will no longer be charged. The defendant is not permitted to kill another person, though. However, there are some requirements that must be met to prove this legal defense was warranted:
- The defendant must have believed within reason that they had to commit the crime because of an emergency
- The defendant must have not had any alternatives to the situation
- The harm caused by the criminal act must never be greater than the harm avoided
- The defendant did not actually cause the threat
The defendant must have had no other options available at the time the criminal act was committed. If there were other options, then the criminal actions would not be justified. Let’s say that somebody had children in the back of their vehicle and their brakes stopped working while they were approaching a cliff. From a reasonable standpoint, the bus driver should be able to make a decision on how he could save the children, such as veering from the path even if it means more danger. If there are no alternatives, the bus driver could have gone through with this plan. Say, however, the bus driver had an alternative braking system and refused to use it – then he would not be justified in his actions.
Did you contribute to the criminal act but want to claim the defense of necessity? You will not be able to if you caused the threat that you were seeking to avoid. Let’s use the bus driver incident as an example. What if the bus driver was advised by his mechanic that the brakes on his bus were about to fail but he decided not to have them replaced? He would have difficulty claiming the defense of necessity because of his failure to act responsibly. Were you involved in a situation that forced you to make a decision that would benefit your own life or the lives of others? Was this act criminal in nature even though it was completely warranted? You may have a necessity claim. Find out more today by contacting us at The Law Office of Peter Blair.