Drunk driver absolved under rare ‘defence of necessity’ argument

Matthew Coutts
Daily Brew
December 4, 2013
Drunk driver absolved under rare ‘defence of necessity’ argument

A Nova Scotia man has been legally absolved for drunk driving after a judge determined he had no choice but to get behind the wheel, becoming the second Canadian to be recently saved by the rare "defence of necessity" argument.

Roger Pleau admitted he was drunk when he drove his friend to the hospital in October 2012.

The Halifax Chronicle Herald reports that a court heard that, on the night of the offence, Pleau and his friend Eldon Deegan were drinking at Deegan's apartment when they decided to go outside to smoke cigarettes.

In a slapstick series of events, the pair accidentally locked themselves out of the apartment, after which Deegan fell down a flight of stairs and received a gash to his head.

Their wives were at bingo and the men did not have cellphones in their possession, leaving Pleau feeling he had no choice but to drive his friend to the hospital.

[ Related: Peter MacKay reacts to reported fourth soldier suicide ]

Pleau was arrested at the hospital and later admitted to drinking and driving, but issued a "defence of necessity" plea in court. The necessity defence is rare and essentially argues that a willful legal breach was the lesser of two evils.

In Pleau's case, the judge agreed that he reasonably felt he had no choice but drive his friend to the hospital. Interestingly, this case has some similarity to the last time the necessity defence was accepted.

In September, Saskatchewan's Serena Maxay was acquitted for drunk driving after she and a friend fled a home where they were drinking because they feared for their safety.

[ More Brew: Train operators are breaking more rules, while rail industry addresses safety concerns ]

But don't think the necessity defence is intended only for drinking and driving. It was most famously argued in 1976 when Dr. Henry Morgentaler was first tried for conducting an illegal abortion. Robert Latimer also tried to use the defence as a reason for killing his disabled daughter, during a 1997 trial.

Nowadays, however, the rarely cited defence seems most likely to appear in drunk driving cases.

Not that the judge let Pleau off the hook entirely. He was criticized for his nasty smoking habit.

“There are any number of reasons for individuals to quit the habit of smoking,” reads the judgment. “This case outlines another one.”