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in re Eichorn

    Brief Fact Summary.

    Eichorn (defendant) a homeless man, was cited by a police for sleeping on the sidewalk in violation of a city ordinance, and Eichorn argued violating the city ordinance was out of necessity because there was no alternative.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    The necessity defense is available to criminal defendants if they: (1) violated the law to prevent a significant evil, (2) there was no adequate alternative present, (3) they had an objectively reasonable good-faith belief that violation of the law was necessary, and (4) they did not substantially contribute to the emergency or create a greater danger than the one avoided

    Facts.

    Eichorn (defendant) a homeless man, was cited by a police for sleeping on a public sidewalk in violation of a city ordinance when he was found sleeping in a sleeping bag outside of the civic center. When the officer inquired as to why Eichorn did not attempt to seek shelter at the National Guard Armory, which is designed to house the homeless, he responded that he tried to but it was always full. At trial, Eichorn both pleaded necessity and asked for funds to obtain an expert to testify on the harms of sleep deprivation, which the trial court rejected both. At a bench trial, experts testified in defense of Eichorn, testifying to the rise of the amount of homeless, the lack of available beds and shelters due to over capacity at the Armory, and lack of beds at shelters in general. The trial court rejected Eichorn’s argument and the appellate court affirmed.

    Issue.

    Whether the defense of necessity is applicable if the violation of the law was in good faith and was done in order to prevent a significant evil?

    Held.

    Yes, The necessity defense is available to criminal defendants if they: (1) violated the law to prevent a significant evil, (2) there was no adequate alternative present, (3) they had an objectively reasonable good-faith belief that violation of the law was necessary, and (4) they did not substantially contribute to the emergency or create a greater danger than the one avoided.

    Discussion.

    Courts should instruct juries on the defense of necessity when the evidence presented is sufficient to show that the defendant has met one of the factors mentioned above. While it can be disputed that Eichorn really prevented a significant evil by sleeping on the sidewalk, it can not be disputed the sleep is a necessity and not something a person can choose to do or not do to. The lack of sleep can be harmful in many ways, not only to the person lacking sleep, but to others as well. Thus, the trial court erred in rejecting Eichorn’s necessity defense and request for expert witnesses. The evidence overwhelmingly shows that there was no alternative than to sleep on the sidewalk. The ordinance was violated in good faith, there was no adequate alternative available to Eichorn other than sleeping on the sidewalk, and Eichorn did not contribute to an emergency or create any danger for the public at large.


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