Court Discusses Necessity Defense in New Jersey DWI Cases

When a person is charged with a DWI crime, it does not necessarily mean that he or she will be convicted. To the contrary, in some cases, the State’s evidence will be insufficient, or the State will be precluded from introducing evidence against the defendant, due to the manner in which it was obtained. In some cases, even if the State can prove that a defendant drove while intoxicated, the defendant may be able to avoid a conviction by arguing the affirmative defense of necessity. In a recent DWI case, the appellate division of the Superior Court of New Jersey discussed what a defendant alleging necessity must prove to avoid a guilty verdict.  If you are charged with a DWI crime, it is wise to speak to an experienced attorney regarding your available defenses.

Facts and Proceedings of the Underlying Case

Allegedly, police officers found the defendant asleep in the driver’s seat of her car in the parking lot of a grocery store. Her lights were on, and the keys were in the ignition. When the officers questioned the defendant, they noticed a strong odor of alcohol, and she admitted to drinking seven shots of liquor. She was arrested for DWI, and a breath sample revealed her BAC to be .19%. She was charged with DWI and reckless driving. She pleaded guilty to the DWI charge and was sentenced.

The defendant subsequently filed a motion to vacate her guilty plea, arguing the defense of necessity. The court denied her motion, and the defendant appealed to the Law Division. Her appeal to the Law Division was also denied, after which she appealed to the Superior Court. On review, the Superior Court affirmed the lower courts’ decisions, finding, in part, that the defendant failed to prove that the elements of necessity required a reversal.

Asserting the Necessity Defense in DWI Cases

In New Jersey, necessity is a common law defense available to DWI defendants. A necessity defense has four elements. First, a defendant must prove that an emergency situation arose through no fault of the defendant and that the emergency was so compelling and imminent that it could reasonably be construed as posing a threat of harm to the defendant. The defendant must then show that there was no reasonable way to avoid the threat other than partaking in the criminal act. Lastly, the defendant must show that the threat of harm was sufficiently serious to outweigh the criminal act.

In the subject case, the defendant asserted that she drove while intoxicated to escape from her boyfriend, who had assaulted her. The court found that the defendant was not in present danger when she drove to the parking lot, however, and that the defendant had other options for avoiding harm. Furthermore, the court noted that the defendant did not advise the arresting officers that she had been assaulted. As a result, the court affirmed the lower courts’ rulings.

Meet with a Dedicated DWI Defense Attorney

If you are a resident of New Jersey and were recently charged with a DWI offense, it is in your best interest to speak to a dedicated New Jersey DWI defense attorney regarding the defenses that you may be able to assert to avoid a conviction. The seasoned attorneys at the Law Offices of Jonathan F. Marshall are adept at handling DWI cases, and we will work diligently to help you seek the best result available under the facts of your case. You can contact us at 877-450-8301 or through our online form to schedule a meeting.