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Necessity as a Defense in Texas

Sometimes, it's necessary to break the law to protect yourself. In Texas, it is possible to defeat criminal charges by arguing that your actions were necessary, and therefore justifiable, under the law. If you have recently been arrested for a crime that you committed out of necessity, you need the help of an experienced criminal defense attorney. Contact the Doug Murphy Law Firm, P.C. to find out how we can help protect your future by proving that your actions were necessary.

Affirmative Defenses

When you argue that your actions were necessary to protect yourself, you are asserting what is known as an affirmative defense. Most defenses that are argued in criminal matters seek to prove that the defendant is not guilty of committing a crime. Affirmative defenses, on the other hand, require you to admit that you broke the law. However, you explain that your actions, while ordinarily in violation of Texas law, were justifiable under the circumstances.

In other words, you affirm that you committed a crime but explain that extenuating circumstances justify your behavior. When successfully argued, an affirmative defense can allow you to escape the consequences of your illegal actions.

Defense of Necessity

Texas law allows you to present the argument that committing a crime was necessary to protect yourself from harm. Necessity, which is defined in Texas Penal Code Sec. 9.22, can justify otherwise-illegal behavior if:

  1. You reasonably believe your actions are immediately necessary to avoid imminent harm; and
  2. The harm caused by your actions do not outweigh the harm you seek to avoid.

Breaking the law can be justifiable if your actions are necessary at the moment to avoid danger, and the harm you cause is not greater than the harm you are trying to avoid. If you can prove that your actions were necessary, you can escape the consequences of a conviction.

If you created the harm through recklessness or negligence, then the acts you committed to avoid that harm are not protected by this affirmative defense.

Immediately Necessary to Avoid Imminent Harm

The first requirement for the defense of necessity is that you "reasonably believe" your actions are "immediately necessary to avoid imminent harm." This simply means that your actions are required to prevent you or another person from being injured or otherwise harmed at that very moment in time. You cannot argue that it was necessary to commit a crime in order to prevent some future threat of harm or danger. The threat must be present, immediate, and current.

Reasonable Belief

How do you know if your belief is reasonable? This is a question of fact that will be left up to the jury. Whether or not something is reasonable often comes down to asking the following question: would an objectively reasonable person act in the same way under similar circumstances? This often requires a thorough analysis of all evidence, testimony, and arguments that are relevant to your specific case. If someone else, standing in your shoes, would have also believed that it was necessary to break the law to escape harm, your belief will likely be considered to be reasonable.

Harm Caused vs. Harm Avoided

Texas law explains that the defense of necessity can only be successful if

the desirability and urgency of avoiding the harm clearly outweigh, according to ordinary standards of reasonableness, the harm sought to be prevented by the law proscribing the conduct.

In other words, the harm caused by your actions should not outweigh the harm you are attempting to avoid. This is another question of reasonableness and will require a thorough assessment of the specific circumstances of your case.

Examples of Necessity

Still not sure when the defense of necessity may be applicable? Sometimes it can help to have a few practical examples.

Example #1: You are arrested for reckless driving and speeding after a police officer observes you driving 100 MPH on a Houston road. You admit to breaking the law, but argue that your actions were necessary because you were critically injured in a local shooting and were racing to the hospital for emergency medical care. Your actions may be considered necessary if you only had a very short period of time to get to the hospital before succumbing to your injuries. However, whether or not your actions were reasonable may depend on whether or not you had time to call 911 for help.

Example #2: You are arrested and charged with the crime of assault after you are accused of punching another person. You admit to physically hurting that person but explain that your actions were necessary to protect yourself from sexual assault. As it turns out, the victim of your assault was making unwanted sexual advances and had begun to touch you inappropriately. Your actions were necessary to stop the attack and give you the opportunity to flee to safety.

Example #3: You were kidnapped and taken to a location that you were unfamiliar with. Fortunately, you managed to escape. However, once you got out, you found that it was necessary to cross private property. The property owner, seeing you trespassing on the land, called the police. You argue that even though you were unlawfully on someone else's land without permission, your actions were necessary to escape your kidnapper.

Limitations to the Defense of Necessity

There are certain times when the argument of necessity will never be applicable.

Economic Necessity

While you may think that your financial situation makes it necessary to commit a crime, courts across the United States disagree. Economic need is not a suitable argument for the defense of necessity. Courts, including those in Texas, have explained that since the state offers welfare and alternatives to theft and stealing, economic necessity is not a defense to a crime.

Legislative Purpose

The Texas state law that creates the defense of necessity also explicitly states that the defense cannot be used if there is a plain "legislative purpose to exclude the justification claimed for the conduct." In other words, if a law exists that plainly prohibits your behavior under the circumstances, you cannot successfully present an argument of necessity.

Contact Our Houston Criminal Law Attorney for Necessity Defense

Have you been arrested for a crime in Texas? Were you forced to break the law to protect yourself from imminent danger or harm? If so, you should not be punished for your actions. Call the Doug Murphy Law Firm, P.C. to find out how we can help you prove that your actions were justified under the law.

We have more than 18 years of experience handling all complex criminal matters in the state of Texas. We know that your future is in jeopardy, and we will fight to protect you from the consequences of a conviction. If your actions were justified under the circumstances, we will prove it. Call us today at 713-229-8333 or fill out our online form to learn more and schedule your free consultation.

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