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Florida court: rushing dying cat to hospital no defense to DUI

In 2010, a Hillsborough County sheriff's deputy pulled a man over for driving 84 mph in a 55 mph zone and for veering across traffic toward an exit ramp. When the deputy approached, the man pleaded with the officer to let him go because he was rushing his friend’s dying cat to a veterinary hospital. Instead, the deputy administered field sobriety and Intoxilyzer tests, and arrested him for drunk driving.

There’s no dispute that the driver was indeed rushing his friend, the dying cat, and two other people to a veterinary clinic just near the exit he had veered across traffic to reach. Sadly, the cat did die while the officer administered the tests. When the cat had become gravely ill, the cat owner and his friends explained, this man was the only one available to drive.

If that was the case it was unfortunate, because he wasn’t sober enough to drive. Worse, this was reportedly his third drunk-driving arrest in 10 years, which is a third-degree felony in Florida.

Interestingly, at his trial the driver admitted he had been drunk. He asked the court, however, to allow him to use the necessity defense. This is a perfectly legal defense available in Florida and many states to excuse certain otherwise-illegal actions when the defendant reasonably believes that breaking the law is necessary to avoid an imminent threat of serious bodily injury to himself or others. His trial judge refused, and he was convicted.

He appealed that refusal to the Second District Court of Appeal in Lakeland, which released its ruling last week. The court was sympathetic to the defendant, noting that his wish to save the life of his friend’s cat was understandable. It also noted that the necessity defense is indeed available in Florida DUI cases.

Nevertheless, the appeals court could not overturn his DUI conviction. The legal rules for the necessity defense, the court said, “compel us to the conclusion that a claim of necessity is not available as a defense to a DUI charge in Florida when the asserted emergency involves the threat of harm to an animal instead of a person."

Source: Courthouse News Service, “How Do We Know Its Ninth Life Is on the Line?” Jeff D. Gorman, Sept. 23, 2013

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