Daniel Hynes

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Emergency defense to DWI

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Can An Emergency Situation Be Used As An Excuse For Driving While Intoxicated?

In December of 2013, The ABA Journal published an article about a case originating in Canada where the judge found a defendant not guilty, although he did operate a motor vehicle while intoxicated, because an emergency situation forced him to deliver an injured friend to the local hospital to receive medical treatment. The friend had sustained injuries to their head after striking it on a metal stair railing after a fall. After being accidentally locked out of their nearby apartment and being unable to reach their cellphones, it was determined that the pair had no other reasonable option than to drive intoxicated to the local hospital.

Causes of this particular nature can be divided into one of two different categories, both of which overlap somewhat. The first category is referred to as justification defense cases wherein an emergency situation presents a pressing need to operate a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol. The second category is referred to as duress defense cases in which a motorist possesses a need to escape a dangerous scenario, like a domestic abuser who is on a rampage.

Justification Defenses In New Hampshire DWI Cases

New Hampshire state law creates a high burden of proof for motorists who claim “justification” or “necessity” for driving while intoxicated. New Hampshire state statute RSA 627:3 states:

“Conduct which the actor believes to be necessary to avoid harm to himself or another is justifiable if the desirability and urgency of avoiding harm outweigh, according to ordinary standards of reasonableness, the harm sought to be prevented by the statute defining the offense charged.”

In the 1985 case of New Hampshire v. Fee, the presiding judge ruled that an individual is legally protected from criminal prosecution under a defense of competing harms if he or she commits a criminal offense that is classified as urgently necessary in order to avoid the threat of clear and imminent danger.

In this particular Canadian case, most reasonable persons would assume that, rather than driving intoxicated to the hospital, a more reasonable choice would be to use a cellphone to call 911. That is why it was critical for the defendants’ legal team to prove that the two men had been locked out of their apartment and had no other method to call for help.

Duress Defenses In New Hampshire DWI Cases

With some frequency, a defendant will claim the he or she was compelled to operate a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol in order to avoid a violent, dangerous situation, such as a domestic batterer who is on the rampage. In such cases, there is not an existing New Hampshire state statute that provides for a legal defense, but for “extreme scenarios”, there exists a common law defense that can be employed.

In the 1996 case of State v. Daoud, the NH court decided that, under common law defenses, duress:

“was said to excuse criminal conduct where the actor was under an unlawful threat of imminent death or serious bodily injury, which threat caused the actor to engage in conduct violating the literal terms of the criminal law.”

For most defendants, this is an incredibly difficult burden of proof to meet. For this reason, many NH DWI attorneys will opt to pursue a justification defense, rather than a duress defense.

Contact Our Law Firm Today

For a free consultation regarding your particular case, or to have your questions answered by one of our experienced NH DWI lawyers, contact our law firm today via phone, email, or through our website.

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Guest Monday, 27 May 2024