DWI Attorney Douglas Kans Articles Florida Drunk Driving Case Highlights Necessity Defense

Florida Drunk Driving Case Highlights Necessity Defense

By Douglas Kans  Sep. 22, 2013 6:52a

We just covered the Minnesota driving under the influence case of the woman who is currently appealing her license revocation after being arrested while fleeing her drunken and physically abusive husband. So far the Minnesota court system has been unwilling to entertain her case, saying that the defense of necessity only applies to criminal matters and not her civil infraction.

In a similar case out of Florida, a state appeals court recently disagreed with another driver’s attempt to claim that his driving under the influence of alcohol was justified by extenuating circumstances. In that case, a sheriff from Hillsborough County clocked Christopher Brooks driving 84 miles per hour across multiple lanes of traffic heading towards an exit ramp. The officer pulled Brooks over and arrested him for drunk driving. The arrest marked the third DUI for Brooks in under 10 years.

After being charged, Brooks responded by claiming that he had a legitimate reason to be on the road despite drinking too much: his friend’s cat was ill and he was the only person who could transport the cat to an emergency veterinary clinic. Though the excuse may seem exaggerated, court documents show that the cat’s owner was a passenger in the car who pleaded with the arresting officer that the cat was very ill and about to die. As it turns out the owner was telling the truth, and according to the officer, the cat died during or shortly after Brooks’ traffic stop.

Despite the sad circumstances, the novel excuse was not met with much sympathy at a Florida appeals court which decided earlier this week that Brooks could not claim the defense of necessity in the case.

The court of appeals said that while such a defense could be used in DUI cases, it could only be used in narrow circumstances. For instance, the court said that if a person were transporting injured humans who were in serious danger, then the defense of necessity would be justifiable. However, an injured cat did not amount to sufficient justification for the impaired driving. The Second District Court of Appeal wrote that while Brooks’ wish to help the cat was understandable, the elements of the defense clearly demonstrate that necessity is not a valid defense in cases where the emergency claimed involved a threat of harm to an animal.

The Court made clear that it believed the necessity defense could properly be used in cases where a driver was attempting to avoid imminent danger to himself or others. However, the phrase “or others” was interpreted to only refer to other humans, not animals.

Though the result in the Florida case may appear to offer hope to the Minnesota woman who was arrested after fleeing her abusive husband, an important distinction between the two exists: the Florida case involves a felony DWI conviction while the Minnesota case involves a civil infraction. Minnesota courts have maintained that the necessity defense is valid in criminal cases, like the one in Florida, but not for a civil issue like license revocation.

Source: “Appeals Court: Sick Cat No Excuse For Drunk Driving,” published at NorthEscambia.com.

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