cat steering wheelWhile there are very few exceptions in Florida that would actually allow someone to drive while intoxicated, exceptions do exist and can be used as a defense to the DUI traffic tickets.  One exception is a claim of necessity, often invoked involving an emergency that threatens harm to someone.  A Florida DUI case decided earlier this year took this issue into account when determining the driver’s guilt or innocence. The facts of the case involved a man who had been drinking when a friend started pleading with him to drive the friend’s sick cat to an animal hospital so it wouldn’t die.  At that time the man was the only person available at approximately 1a.m. to take the cat.  So they took to the roads to save the cat.

While traveling to the vet’s office, police clocked the man at 84 miles per hour in a 55 mile per hour zone.  They also observed him cross three lanes of traffic to get to an exit ramp, presumably at the friend’s direction of where the clinic was located.  When officers pulled the man over and gave him a sobriety test, they concluded that he was intoxicated and issued traffic tickets for DUI among other charges.  This turned out to be a third-degree felony because it was driver’s third DUI in a ten-year period.  At trial, he didn’t deny that he had been drinking but invoked the claim of necessity defense because of the cat’s illness.  Although the cat did die either during or shortly after the traffic stop, he was still convicted.  He then appealed the conviction.

On appeal, the court considered the claim of necessity defense, finding several cases involving Florida traffic tickets where it had been used and the conviction appealed in the defendant’s favor. In one example, police officers found a car in the middle of an intersection with the driver slumped over the wheel with the car running and parked while in drive with the man’s foot on the brake pedal.  When questioned, the intoxicated man told police that his designated driver became angry at him and abandoned the car at the traffic light, and the designated driver later confirmed that this was what had happened.  The defendant said that he had started trying to drive the car out of the middle of the intersection but either passed out or fell asleep in the process.  He was found guilty.

On appeal, the man raised the necessity defense and his conviction was reversed.  The court noted that he was stopped in a busy intersection and the car’s location could have easily caused an accident or other traffic tickets involving either the defendant’s car or others.  The court found that, even though he was driving while intoxicated and did not complete the action he started, his intention in trying to avoid an emergency situation was justified. In another case involving Florida traffic tickets the court allowed the defense of necessity and found the defendant innocent of DUI.  The defendant had been drinking when residents were advised to evacuate due to a tropical storm.  While leaving the area, he fell asleep in his car and was charged with DUI but the court found that it was necessary for him to drive.

The court found that the following factors must be present to prevail on a defense of necessity:

  • The driver reasonably believed that his action was necessary to avoid an imminent threat of danger or serious bodily injury to himself or others;
  • The driver did not intentionally or recklessly place himself in a situation that caused the criminal conduct of driving while intoxicated;
  • There was no other adequate means of avoiding the harm other than driving under the influence;
  • The harm to be avoided was more serious than breaking the law by driving under the influence; and
  • The defendant stopped driving as soon as the necessity for it ended.

In the appeal of this case involving the cat, the court only examined the first factor, interpreting the meaning of “serious bodily injury to himself or others.”  The court found that “or others” does not include animals in its definition so there was no need to consider the other four factors and affirmed the man’s conviction.

The court’s seemingly insensitive stance toward pets may detract from the point of the case which, at its heart, is that there are defenses to a Florida DUI charge, even when it is clear that the defendant was driving while intoxicated.   The claim of necessity is one of those defenses but an attorney experienced in defending DUI cases and other Florida traffic tickets will be aware of any defense that could help keep the charge off your record.