A Nova Scotia man successfully used ‘defense of necessity’ in a drunk driving charge, whereby he argued he was compelled to drive his injured friend to the hospital despite being intoxicated. Judge Paul Scovil acquitted Roger Pleau after he successfully invoked the rarely-used defense after he drove his bloodied and concussed friend to the hospital after a night of drinking.
Mr. Pleau and his friend were drinking alcohol when his friend stepped outside his apartment to smoke and fell down a flight of stairs, resulting in a head injury. Both of the men were locked outside the building, and neither had a key or cellphone to call for help. Pleau argued that he ‘panicked,’ believing that his friend was in critical condition, and drove his friend to the hospital so he can receive the proper medical care. A nurse at the hospital called police after she noticed that Pleau was intoxicated.
Judge Paul Scovil believed that Pleau’s testimony and reasons for driving drunk were credible, and Mr. Pleau did not have enough time to believe he would find a reasonable alternative, given the possibly fatal situation at hand. Scovil, in his ruling, wrote that his decision is not meant to condone impaired driving or that the ‘defense of necessity’ is an easy defense to rationalize in front of the courts. It is meant to show that in Mr. Pleau’s case, this rare exception applies and the defense is justified.
Edward Prutschi, a criminal lawyer and a legal analyst that is regularly featured on Canada’s national media circuit, is on NewsTalk1010 to talk about an extremely rare successful necessity defense in an impaired driving case. Mr. Prutschi is first asked to distinguish between ‘driving out of necessity’ and ‘driving out of emergency.’ Mr. Prutschi prefaces his response by highlighting how rare this type of case is, and it is a case you read in law school and do not expect to hear about.
Mr. Prutschi says for a successful defense of necessity to stand in court, a few preconditions have to be met.
Firstly, it has to be an emergency situation and the one with Mr. Pleau and his injured friend qualifies as one. Secondly, if it is an emergency situation, was there any other legal alternative? In this case, Mr. Pleau had no other legal alternative. Lastly, Mr. Prutschi mentions that proportionality of breaking the law and not breaking the law must be weighed, which is key. In this case, Mr. Pleau’s friend would suffer irreparable harm as a result of a delay in obtaining medical attention, which could have resulted in his death, and that would surely outweigh the harm brought on by impaired driving. This, Mr. Prutschi argues, is why Mr. Pleau was able to successfully beat his charge and use “defense of necessity” as legal grounds for driving drunk.