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Is Necessity A Viable Defense For Intoxicated Driving?

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There are a number of defenses that can be used to counter a driving while intoxicated charge. One that could be used in court is the necessity doctrine. This is an affirmative defense that may let you avoid some or all criminal charges associated with driving while drugged or drunk if you can prove doing so was necessary to prevent an even greater crime from occurring. Here's more information about this defense and what you need to know about using it in your case.

Elements of the Necessity Doctrine

The necessity doctrine is a defense of the last resort, meaning it should only be used when no other defenses to the crime can be invoked. For instance, if you can get the case thrown out by proving the cop made an unlawful stop, you would use that defense instead of the necessity doctrine.

There are several requirements that must be fulfilled to successfully use the necessity defense:

  • You must have a reasonable belief a threat against you or someone else exists
  • The threat was imminent
  • The crime of driving intoxicated was outweighed by the threat of harm
  • Other practical or legal alternatives were not available
  • You didn't cause or contribute to the threat
  • You only acted as far as was needed to handle or escape the threat

One example of the necessity defense in use is a case the Minnesota Court of Appeals has agreed to review. A woman whose driver's license was revoked because she drove while drunk (her BAC was 0.18) is challenging the revocation because she claims she was forced to drive while intoxicated to avoid greater harm.

The woman had gotten into an altercation with her husband and escaped to her vehicle. The man jumped on the hood and hit the windshield so hard it cracked. Fearing for her safety, the woman drove to a nearby tavern for help but was arrested for drunk driving. While the court is uncertain this criminal defense can be used against a civil action, one judge did conclude that the threat of domestic violence outweighed the road hazard the defendant created when she drove while intoxicated.

Courtroom Challenges

Using this defense isn't easy, and you can expect the prosecutor to challenge your claims. One specific difficulty you may face in court is showing the threat to you or another person was reasonable and imminent. In the previous example, the woman's husband was being physically violent and was destroying property to get to her. However, not all situations are this clear cut.

Sometimes a perpetrator may make a threat but have no intention or ability to follow through. For instance, the person may threaten to stab you but be too drunk to actually do the deed. Other times, the threat may be credible but not imminent. A person threatens to rob your home, for example, but you know it takes 45 minutes to get to your residence. The court may feel that's plenty of time to contact law enforcement to intercept the potential burglar. You'll need to show that a reasonable person would believe the threat to be credible and was about to occur in such a short period of time that you couldn't take any other action but drive while intoxicated.

Another area that can cause you a problem is showing you only drove as far as was necessary to escape from or deal with the threat. The court may side with you if you only drove to the nearest police station for help with someone who may have threatened you at a bar but may have a hard time believing you if you were trying to drive home several miles away.

The necessity doctrine can be a good way to defend against driving while intoxicated charges. For more information about or help with using this doctrine, contact a criminal defense attorney, such as Mesenbourg & Sarratori Law Offices.