Necessity As A Defense In Texas Courts

Legal strategies can be as different and complicated as the cases themselves. One strategy used in places like Texas is the necessity defense. This defense lets defendants argue that their actions were justifiable because they had to do them to stop something worse from happening. Let’s look at what the necessity defense is, how it’s used in Texas courts, and how lawyers can use it to help their clients.

Defense of Necessity

The necessity defense is a way to explain why you did something, even if it’s illegal. If the jury believes that, given the situation, what you did was justifiable, they might decide you are not guilty of the charges against you. Sometimes, if you raise the necessity defense correctly, the prosecution might even drop your case before it goes to trial.

According to Texas Penal Code Sec. 9.22, the necessity defense can excuse actions that would normally be illegal if:

  • There was a clear and serious threat of immediate danger.
  • Acting immediately was necessary in the situation.
  • There were no other legal options available.
  • The defendant didn’t create the threat.
  • The defendant acted out of necessity throughout.
  • The harm caused was not greater than the harm prevented.

Demonstrating the necessity of your actions could result in avoiding legal consequences. However, if you cause harm due to carelessness or negligence, this defense cannot be used to protect yourself from the repercussions.

Affirmative Defense

The defense of necessity is an affirmative defense. In this defense, the defendant has to show by a preponderance of the evidence that it’s more likely than not they had to commit the crime to prevent greater harm that they did not cause. While most defenses in criminal law aim to prove innocence, affirmative defenses acknowledge breaking the law but claim justification under the circumstances.

In essence, you admit to the criminal act but argue that it was warranted. If successfully argued, an affirmative defense can result in avoiding the usual consequences of illegal actions.

What Do You Have To Prove In Using Necessity Defense?

While most defenses aim to prove innocence, affirmative defenses acknowledge breaking the law but justify it under the circumstances.

To make this defense work, they usually have to show that:

  1. Immediate Danger: This means there was an immediate and serious threat of harm. It had to be clear and happening right then, needing urgent action.
  2. No Other Options: This means the defendant has to prove there were no other effective legal ways for harm to be avoided. They couldn’t have solved the problem using the law.
  3. No Contribution to Threat: The defendant needs to show they didn’t cause or add to the threat that made them act. If their actions contributed to the danger, the necessity defense might not work.
  4. Consistent Necessity: Throughout their actions, the defendant must show they acted out of necessity. Their actions were only to prevent harm, not for any other reason.
  5. Harm Comparison: Lastly, the harm caused by the defendant’s actions must not have been worse than the harm they were trying to prevent. This means looking at both harms to see if the defendant’s actions were reasonable.

Two Types of Necessity Defense

Privacy Necessity

Private necessity, also known as lesser harm, is a defense commonly applied when an individual trespasses on another’s property to prevent greater harm, despite the action being a crime. This defense is applicable in both criminal cases involving trespassing and civil lawsuits for trespass.

Private necessities can arise in various situations. Here are two examples:

  • Avoiding a Crime: Someone might trespass onto another person’s land while trying to protect themselves from being robbed or from being the victim of another crime.
  • Attempting to Save Themselves and Others: For example, if hikers are caught in a storm, they might break into a nearby cabin for shelter until it passes. If charged with trespassing, they can argue that it was necessary to save their lives and their fellow hikers. They would also argue that there were no other options and that the damage to the cabin was minimal compared to the harm they would have faced if they had not taken that action.

Public Necessity

Public necessity is a defense used when someone interferes with another person’s property in an emergency to protect the community from greater harm. This defense can excuse the defendant from liability for damages caused by their actions. For example, it justifies demolishing houses to stop a fire from spreading or throwing goods overboard from a ship to prevent sinking.

Necessity Defense Limitation

There are situations where the necessity defense can never be used.

Financial Hardship

  • Economic necessity is not a valid defense in criminal cases. Courts reject financial hardship as a justification for crime, as welfare and legal alternatives are available.

Legislative Purpose

  • In Texas, the necessity defense is unavailable if the legislative purpose is to exclude the claimed justification for the conduct. In other words, if there is a law that clearly says your actions are not allowed in that situation, you cannot use the necessity defense.

Arrested? Don’t Plea, Call Me!

Understanding the elements and limitations of this defense is crucial for both defendants and their legal representation. If you face criminal charges in Texas and think the necessity defense may apply, consult a criminal defense attorney. Explore your options and protect your rights. Don’t hesitate to reach out for help and protect your rights.