Is an Emergency a Defense to a DUI?

Posted by Richard Lawson | Nov 15, 2016 | 0 Comments

The issue of “Justification” is complicated insofar as a DUI in concerned.  Some criminal offenses can be excused because a person may be justified to break the law in order to protect themselves.

The classic example is a self-defense argument.  We all have a right to use violence to defend ourselves against a violent act proportionally.

Another example is the defense of our home.  We are legally allowed to use force to defend our home if someone is entering it without permission.  

The right of self-defense, however, is not unlimited.  We cannot shoot a person in the back as they run away from the crime scene.  An individual who executes another would be charged with murder or at least voluntary manslaughter.

Emergency as a Defense to a DUI:

There are situations where a client has no choice but to drive.  The most common example is when someone is fleeing a violent domestic situation.  When someone is in fear of his or her life, he or she may legally try to escape.  However, the actions a person takes after fleeing are key to the whether they have a legitimate excuse.  

The most important factor is the time and distance a person travels.  For example, if a woman is fleeing a violent situation from their spouse or boyfriend and drives two hours away to her mother's house, then using the Emergency as a Defense to a DUI will not be effective.

However, if she travels one mile to the nearest police station while calling the police at the same time, then her actions are far more likely to be considered reasonable.  

Another example is when a person is trying to rescue someone else from harm.  Again, their actual behavior is the most important thing.   The law will judge the reasonableness of the person's actions against the unlawfulness and risk to others. 

Practice Note:

To argue "justification" in court, the accused must first admit that the act did occur, and then after admitting it argue it was justified.  The defense cannot say it did not happen, however, if you the jury believe it happened then it was justified.  As a result, there is an inherent risk in using a justification defense. Once you go down that path, there is no turning back. 

In the context of a DUI, if we argue that the person did drive impaired as a result of an emergency, we are admitting that our client was under the influence.  An emergency is a defense to a DUI, but it is an all or nothing argument.

Practice Note Two:

A justification argument is usually made during a jury trial.  It is an affirmative defense to which your Georgia DUI Attorney must tell the prosecutor before trial.  It is ultimately a question for a jury to decide because most prosecutors will not dismiss a case where a person is admitting it did, in fact, happen.  

About the Author

Richard Lawson

Managing Partner at Lawson & Berry:


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