A Sick Cat and the ‘Necessity’ Defense in Florida DUI Cases – Brooks v. State

In Florida, a person charged with DUI may argue under certain circumstances that the act of driving under the influence was justified by emergency circumstances. In Brooks v. State, the Second District Court of Appeal recently considered a unique application of the “necessity” defense by a driver with a sick cat.

Mr. Brooks was arrested and charged with felony driving under the influence after being pulled over by a police officer in Hillsborough County early in the morning of Oct. 30, 2010. Brooks had been driving 84 miles an hour in a 55-mile-an-hour zone and veered across three lanes to reach an exit ramp before being pulled over. He failed a field sobriety test and, according to the court, a breathalyzer test revealed that he was legally intoxicated.

At trial, Brooks admitted he’d been driving under the influence, but argued that he got behind the wheel because his friend’s cat was sick and Brooks was the only person who could take the animal for emergency veterinarian treatment. The court said Brooks was indeed transporting a cat that appeared to be very ill at the time and noted that he was pulled over near a vet clinic. The cat’s owner, who was a passenger in the car, apparently pleaded with the officer to let them go and said that his cat was near death. The cat died shortly after the vehicle stop.

The Second District explained that a person charged with DUI in Florida can argue that his or her actions were justified by “necessity.” In Clements v. State, for example, a Florida trial court held that a man who claimed he got in his car to seek shelter during a hurricane, fell asleep and was later charged with DUI when he was noticed by cops was entitled to a jury instruction informing the jury that the necessity defense was available in the case. Similarly, another court ruled in Newsome v. State that a man claiming that he was left as a passenger in his car in the middle of a highway after an argument with a designated driver could assert that it was a necessity for him to get behind the wheel and move the vehicle.

In this case, however, the trial court denied Brooks’ request that the jury be instructed on necessity. At the close of trial, he was convicted of DUI. The Second District agreed on appeal. The court said a person looking to assert a necessity defense in a DUI case must show, among other factors, that he or she “reasonably believe that his action was necessary to avoid an imminent threat of danger or serious bodily injury to himself or others.” The term “others” was limited to humans and didn’t include the sick cat in this case, according to the court.

“Although Mr. Brooks’ wish to obtain treatment for the ailing feline is understandable, the elements of the defense and the plain language of the jury instruction compel us to the conclusion that a claim of necessity is not available as a defense,” the court concluded.

If you have been charged with DUI in Florida, it is important that you seek the advice of an experienced attorney in order to consider and support necessity and other potential defenses. The South Florida DUI defense lawyers at Anidjar & Levine are experienced in handling Florida DUI cases throughout the region, including in Hialeah, Boca Raton and Pompano Beach and consistently provide vigorous defense and high quality representation.

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