One of the defenses available to defendants in DWI cases is the necessity defense. The basis of this defense is that the defendant in a DWI case admits to driving while intoxicated but claims that this was done out of necessity. The necessity defense is also known as the defense of duress, coercion, compulsion, or choice of evils. In using the necessity defense, the defendant in a DWI case claims that the harm done by their driving while intoxicated was justified by the need to avoid an even greater harm. The defense of necessity is not an excuse for drunk driving, but it acts as a reason for the court to excuse the defendant’s behavior.
New York Necessity Defense Statute
The necessity defense is codified in New York Penal Law § 35.05. Under this statute, the defense of necessity is available to a DWI defendant to justify conduct which would otherwise constitute a criminal act when the conduct is necessary as an emergency measure to avoid an imminent public or private injury which is about to occur by reason of a situation occasioned or developed through no fault of the defendant. When using the necessity defense in a DWI case, a defendant generally claims that they drove while intoxicated in order to prevent an injury of such gravity that, according to ordinary standards of intelligence and morality, the urgency to prevent the injury outweighed the harm of drunk driving. In considering whether to accept a defendant’s necessity defense, New York courts generally look at whether the claimed facts and circumstances of the case would justify accepting the defense. In other words, New York courts will generally allow a defendant to use the necessity defense in a DWI case when the facts show that the defendant was left with no alternative but to drive while intoxicated in order to avoid a threat of physical harm to himself or another person.
Recent New York caselaw on the necessity defense
In a recent DWI case decided by the New York Court of Appeals, People v. Rodriguez, a defendant who was accused of driving a truck while intoxicated used the necessity defense. The defendant in the case claimed that he saw a truck which was supposed to be parked moving slowly down a hill and heading toward an intersection. The defendant claimed that even though he was intoxicated at the time, he jumped into the truck and tried to steer it in a different direction. The defendant claimed that he could not steer the truck because the steering wheel was hard to move. The truck eventually struck several cars and three pedestrians, killing one person and seriously injuring two people. Evidence later showed the defendant’s blood alcohol content at the time of the incident to be substantially above the legal limit of .08%. The defendant was convicted of two counts of DWI and several other charges. The defendant appealed the case and sought to have the DWI convictions overturned based on the fact that he should have been able to present an instruction to the jury in the case allowing them to consider the necessity defense.
In considering whether the defendant should have been entitled to a jury instruction on the defense of necessity, the court held that the defendant had to make a choice between two “evils.” The court held that the defendant had to make a choice between either driving while intoxicated in an attempt to avoid an injury or to risk the chance of a runaway truck causing injury. The court eventually reversed the lower court’s decision to not allow the defendant a jury instruction in respect to the necessity defense regarding the two DWI charges.
The attorneys at the law firm of Nave DWI Defense Attorneys are experienced in handling DWI cases. If you need a lawyer who can help you obtain the best possible outcome in your DWI case, call the law firm of Nave DWI Defense Attorneys.
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