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Necessity or Duress Defense in Florida

Certain criminal defenses may be available under Florida law. One such defense involves "necessity" or "duress" defense. As an affirmative defense, the defendant may admit that he committed the criminal act while still maintaining that he is not criminally liable because the defense of necessity or duress excuses the crime.

At the Sammis Law Firm, our attorneys understand the importance of asserting the necessity or duress defense for cases in the Tampa Bay area, including Hillsborough County, Pasco County, Polk County, Manatee County, Sarasota County, or Pinellas County, FL.

Requirements of the Duress or Necessity Defense

Under Florida law, it is a defense to a criminal charge if the defendant committed an act out of necessity or duress. Florida law provides for the following four elements to establish duress or necessity:

  1. The defendant reasonably believed under the circumstances that an immediate emergency or danger existed which threatened significant hard to the defendant or another person;
  2. The defendant did not intentionally cause the emergency or danger; and
  3. The defendant had no way to avoid the emergency or danger except by committing the crime charged; and
  4. The harm that the defendant sought to avoid by committing the criminal act must outweigh the harm caused by committing the criminal act.

Policy Behind the Duress or Necessity Defense

The policy behind the necessity criminal defense is that when a person is in an emergency situation there are circumstances in which the person finds himself confronted with a choice of two evils: committing a criminal offense by the letter of the law with a harmful result or comply with the law but in the process commit an even greater harm. In that situation, social policy excuses the crime that results from violating the law but avoiding the greater evil. See LaFave Scott, 1 Substantive Criminal Law § 5.4, at 627 (1986).

For example, a woman could assert the necessity defense when prosecuted for DUI if she drove while under the influence of alcohol in an attempt to escape a dangerous domestic battery attack. Or a man could assert the necessity defense after driving on a suspended license in order to take another person suffering from a heart attack to the hospital for emergency medical treatment. Another application of the defense has been successfully asserted to excuse a trespass onto another person's property to put out a fire that would then save the another person's property.

Necessity Defense in Marijuana Cases

In Jenks v. State, 582 So. 2d 676 (Florida 1st DCA 1991), the appellate Court reversed a marijuana cultivation convictions where the defendants showed proof of a medical necessity defense pursuant to Florida Statutes § 2.01 under the following circumstances:

  1. The defendants had no control over the circumstances which required the choice between the lesser of two evils;
  2. No less harmful alternative was available; and
  3. The harm sought to be avoided was less offensive than the criminal acts committed to avoid it.

See also Sowell v. State, 738 So. 2d 333 (Florida 1st DCA 1998)(medical necessity defense available to avoid marijuana conviction under certain circumstances).


At the Sammis Law Firm we understand the benefits of aggressively pursuing Florida criminal defenses to win a case. In certain case, necessity or duress is an important defense. If you have been arrested for a case in Tampa, St. Petersburg, Clearwater, Bartow, New Port Richey, Dade City, Plant City or any of the surrounding areas, call a Tampa criminal defense attorney to discuss your case.