How Do We Know Its Ninth Life Is on the Line?
(CN) - Rushing a dying cat to the veterinarian does not excuse drunken driving because the necessity defense cannot be invoked for a threatened animal, a Florida appeals court ruled.
Christopher Brooks was pulled over at 1 a.m. in October 2010 for driving 84 mph in a 55 mph zone. A Hillsborough County sheriff's deputy had additionally seen Brooks veer across three lanes of traffic toward a highway exit ramp.
Three friends of Brooks and an ailing cat were also in the car, and there was a veterinary clinic near the highway exit where Brooks had been heading.
Brooks explained to the deputy he was the only person available to get the dying cat help. One of his passengers, the cat's owner, pleaded to the officer, "My cat is fixing to die!"
Shortly after Brooks failed breathalyzer and field sobriety tests, the cat did in fact die.
It had been Brooks' third DUI in 10 years, so Florida charged him with a third-degree felony. Brooks admitted that he was drunk and hoped the trial court would instruct the jury on the defense of necessity.
The court refused, a jury convicted Brooks, and a three-judge panel of Florida's Second District Court of Appeals affirmed Wednesday.
Though the panel concluded that that the defense of necessity is available in a Florida DUI case, the judges found that it was not available to Brooks.
"As the trial court correctly observed, the first of the five elements of the necessity defense requires that the defendant reasonably believe that his action was necessary to avoid an imminent threat of danger or serious bodily injury to himself or others," Judge Douglas Wallace wrote for the court in Lakeland (emphasis in original). "We do not interpret the phrase 'or others' as applying to animals."
Wallace added: "Although Mr. Brooks' wish to obtain treatment for the ailing feline is understandable, the elements of the defense and plain language of the jury instruction compel us to the conclusion that a claim of necessity is not available as a defense to a DUI charge in Florida when the asserted emergency involves the threat of harm to an animal instead of a person."