What if Criminal Action is Necessary to Protect Against a Greater Harm?

One of the most common general philosophical discussions concerning law and crime in Texas involves what is known as the “necessity defense.” The necessity defense allows for certain criminal conduct to be excused when the conduct was necessary to prevent a greater harm. Self-defense is a type of necessity defense, as is the violation of traffic laws in order to prevent a serious accident. The Texas Court of Appeals recently evaluated a DUI defendant’s claim that she was behind the wheel of a car while intoxicated because it was necessary to safely get the car off the road after the driver had fallen ill.

According to the facts discussed in the appellate opinion, the defendant visited a bar and club district in College Station and consumed several alcoholic beverages, rendering her unfit to drive her vehicle back home. Her brother drove her vehicle with her in the passenger seat and her sister-in-law in the back. At some point, the brother became ill and stopped the vehicle in the middle of the road, prompting the defendant to switch seats with him in an attempt to move the vehicle to a nearby parking lot. Despite being intoxicated and feeling unsafe to drive, she attempted to move the car but was unsuccessful, and a police officer later found the vehicle stopped in traffic with the defendant in the driver’s seat, and she was arrested and charged with DUI.

At trial, The defendant argued that her actions were justified under the necessity defense, contending that she was only attempting to move the car off the road for safety reasons, not to drive it home. However, the trial court denied her request for a necessity instruction. On a first appeal, the court evaluated whether the defendant satisfied the requirements of the necessity defense, including demonstrating a reasonable belief that her actions were immediately necessary to avoid imminent harm. The court found that her intoxication compromised her ability to form a reasonable belief and that there was no evidence of specific imminent harm.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals took up the defendant’s case, and reversed the lower appellate and trial rulings, finding that the lower courts’ assessments of the defendant’s necessity defense contained critical errors. The lower ruling erroneously equated intoxication with the inability to raise a necessity defense, despite no indication in the driving while intoxicated statute that such a defense is precluded. Additionally, the lower court of appeals failed to fully consider the evidence supporting the defendant’s claim of imminent harm. While it highlighted some testimony that was favorable to the prosecution, it overlooked other aspects of the testimony indicating the potential danger posed by a stalled vehicle in the middle of the road. By selectively focusing on evidence that undermined the defendant’s defense and disregarding supportive evidence, the court committed a fundamental error, which deprived the defendant of a fair assessment of her necessity defense. As a result of these findings by the Court of Criminal Appeals, the defendant’s conviction has been reversed and the state will be required to retry her in order to obtain a conviction.

Finding a Qualified Texas Criminal Defense Attorney

If you have been charged with a Texas crime, you may be entitled to statutory defenses to relieve you of criminal liability even if you have met all of the elements of the crime you have been charged with. Finding a qualified and experienced Texas criminal defense attorney will ensure that any applicable defenses are pursued. At Guest and Gray our dedicated criminal defense lawyers are prepared to assist you in fighting whatever criminal accusations you are facing, and with our skill and expertise, you can be confident that you can beat the charges against you. If you have been arrested or charged with any crime in Texas, we may be able to help. At Guest and Gray, we represent people accused of all Texas crimes, including DUI and drug offenses. Reach out today for a free consultation.

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