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What is a defense of necessity in a criminal case?

On Behalf of | Feb 22, 2023 | Firm News |

Extraordinary circumstances may call for exceptional measures. Sometimes, a citizen must commit an act against the law out of duress or necessity.

Such a conjecture has limitations that a defendant should understand before using this argument.

Was there reasonable belief of an imminent threat?

The defendant must have believed there was an imminent threat. The danger must have been specific and seemed to require immediate action. The hazard must be something that a reasonable person would view as a threat, not simply a subjective experience.

Was there an available alternative?

A person can only commit a criminal action to remove a threat if no other realistic legal alternative is available. Courts typically do not consider allowing the harm to continue as a realistic alternative, particularly when the danger is life-threatening.

Did the defendant have any involvement in the threat?

If the defendant caused or contributed to the threat, there is usually no justification for the criminal action. For example, a person with sufficient warning and opportunity to care for a child’s medical condition might not gain the right to steal a device or medication to prevent the child’s impending death.

On the other hand, the condition and threat of death could occur suddenly without prior warning. A court might then accept a necessity defense of theft to prevent the loss of life.

Would the action cause greater harm?

When a defendant took the criminal action, the person should have been reasonably sure that no greater harm would occur. In essence, a person should accept the lesser of two evils.

The necessity defense is not an easy way to excuse a crime. For example, North Carolina does not accept such a defense for intentional murder. Defendants must establish a solid case to prove the argument’s merit.