Brief Fact Summary. The Defendant, Dale Nelson (Defendant), procured a dump truck and a front-end loader from a nearby Highway Department Yard for the purpose of freeing his truck from the mud in which it had become stuck. The Defendant feared that his truck might tip over and damage the roof.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. To invoke the defense of necessity, the crime committed must have been done (i) to prevent a significant evil; (ii) there was no legal alternative and (iii) the harm caused was not disproportionate to the harm avoided.
The defendant's actions should be weighed against the harm reasonably foreseeable at the time, rather than against the harm that actually occurred.View Full Point of Law
Issue. Do these facts excuse the Defendant of criminal liability under a theory of necessity?
Held. No. To invoke the defense of necessity, the crime committed must have been done to prevent (i) a significant evil; (ii) there was no legal alternative and (iii) the harm caused was not disproportionate to the harm avoided. Here, the Defendant did not take the dump truck until twelve hours after his vehicle became stuck, so he cannot argue that a significant evil was being prevented. Further, the Defendant had several legal alternatives, including calling the police, calling a tow truck or flagging down passing motorists. Finally, the damage caused to the dump truck and front-end loader totaled over $10,000.00, which is more than the damage done to the Defendant’s truck.
Discussion. The defense of necessity can be invoked only in the limited circumstances where a crime must be committed to prevent a greater evil, which must be significant. The crime can only be committed if no legal alternatives exist and the harm avoided is not disproportionate to the harm caused.