Can I Use Necessity as a Defense in My Criminal Law Case?

Sharing is caring!

Scales of JusticeNecessity as a Defense in Criminal Law Cases

It is rare to have an affirmative defense in a criminal case, thus understanding defenses that are available to you as a statutory right is crucial. An experienced criminal defense lawyer can help you understand whether an affirmative defense is an option in your case and can provide clarity during what is likely one of the most stressful periods in your life.

There are cases in which it’s necessary to break the law to protect yourself. If you can prove your actions were necessary and justifiable, the criminal charges against you can be defeated.

If you’ve been arrested for a crime that you committed out of necessity, it’s essential you work with an experienced attorney who can argue your case. Contact Gary Tabakman at (713) 331-9457 to find out what he can do to protect you against criminal charges if the crime you committed was out of necessity.

Necessity is an Affirmative Defense

Arguing that your actions were out of necessity and used to protect yourself is an affirmative defense.

In most cases, defendants and their attorneys argue that a crime was not committed or that if a crime was committed, the defendant is not responsible.

Affirmative defenses, on the other hand, require you to admit that you broke the law, but that you did so because it was justifiable under the circumstances.

You are affirming that you committed a crime, but explaining that extenuating circumstances justify your behavior. If successful, an affirmative defense will allow you to escape the consequences of an illegal act.

Acting in an Emergency

Necessity is typically used as a defense when a defendant commits a crime during an emergency. He or she intends to prevent more harm from occurring. When necessity is proven, it increases the likelihood the court will consider the action justified and excuse the crime.

Though it might seem as if anyone can claim their actions were justified, several requirements must be met in order for necessity to be successful as a defense. There must have been:

  • A reasonable belief of a specific threat that required immediate action
  • No realistic alternative
  • No harm caused that was greater than the harm avoided
  • No contribution by the defendant related to the threat

If these four circumstances are proven, breaking the law can be justifiable if your actions are necessary at the moment to avoid danger. Furthermore, the harm that was caused by your actions is not greater than the harm you tried to avoid. If you can prove that your actions were necessary, it might be possible to avoid the consequences of a conviction.

What does each of these requirements mean?

Was there a Reasonable Belief of an Immediate and Specific Threat?

If an individual wants to use the defense of necessity, he or she will need to show that at the time of the crime, there was believed to be an imminent and actual threat and it required that they act immediately to neutralize that threat. It will need to be shown that the threat would be reasonably apparent to the average person, not just the defendant.

You must be able to prove that you reasonably believe your actions were immediately necessary to avoid imminent harm. You cannot argue that you committed a crime to prevent a future threat.

To prove that your belief of an imminent threat was reasonable and your actions were justified, you’ll need to answer the following question:

Would an objectively reasonable person act in the same way under similar circumstances?

A jury will analyze the evidence, testimony, and arguments that are relevant to your specific case and determine how they might have acted under the same circumstances. If your actions make sense to them, your defense of necessity could be successful.

Were Any Other Options Available?

To prove a crime was done out of necessity, the defendant will need to show there were no other realistic alternatives for dealing with the situation. Without any alternatives, the crime is justified because it was the only reasonable option. Aside from letting the harm occur, was there anything that could be done that could have just as easily prevented the situation from occurring?

Did You Cause More Harm By Acting?

It might seem as if it was a good idea to commit a crime to stop something from happening, but if it made the situation worse you won’t have any success claiming your actions were out of necessity. As long as you can be certain your actions will not lead to greater harm than what would occur had you let events unfold instead of intervening with a criminal act, you can claim necessity as your defense.

Were You Involved in the Initial Threat?

To use necessity as a defense, you’ll need to show that you did nothing to contribute to or cause the initial threat. If you were an innocent bystander and had no idea a situation was about to arise and you committed a criminal act to lessen the damage, the defense of necessity is applicable. But if you played any part in the initial incident or you were aware of a problem and did nothing beforehand to prevent it, breaking the law to stop it would not be considered justified.

Examples of Necessity as a Defense

The following are a few examples of when you might use necessity as a defense:

Rushing a Shooting Victim to the Hospital

On the way to a hospital with a shooting victim in your vehicle, you are arrested for driving 90 mph. You admit that you were speeding, but state that had you not gotten the person to the hospital in time she would have died. Whether or not your defense is justified will depend on whether or not you had time to call emergency services at the scene to help the person or if it was faster to drive them to the hospital yourself.

Assaulting a Person to Avoid Injury or Attack

You are charged with assault after punching someone you believed was trying to sexually assault you. If you can show the plaintiff made unwanted sexual advances toward you and/or touched you inappropriately and that you acted on the belief that the situation was escalating, a defense of necessity would be appropriate. Hitting the person provided the time you needed to escape the threat and get to a safe place.

Defense of Necessity is Limited

In certain instances, a defense of necessity will never apply. This includes:

You Had an Economic Need to Commit the Crime

Though it might be possible to envision instances in which it would seem necessary to commit a crime of necessity related to money, the courts tend to look unfavorably upon these situations. Economic need is not considered an acceptable defense of necessity because welfare and other support programs in place remove the need to steal for personal protection, sustenance, etc.

There was a Law Prohibiting Your Specific Actions

If there is a specific law in place that prohibits your actions under your exact circumstances, you cannot argue a defense of necessity.

Keep in mind, when you are using the defense of necessity, you are admitting you broke the law. This means your criminal defense lawyer is not trying to show that a crime wasn’t committed, but instead, is showing why the reason that crime was committed is justified. The crime itself is being acknowledged.

If you’d like to know more about necessity as a defense or you’ve been accused of a crime and you need professional assistance with building a defense, contact Houston criminal defense attorney Gary Tabakman at (713) 331-9457.