Pittsburgh Criminal Defense Lawyer

Citizens Can Legally Drive on Suspended Licenses in Emergency Situations

In Commonwealth v. Manera, 827 A.2d 482 (Pa. Super. 2003) the defendant was originally convicted, by a district justice, of driving while her license was suspended (75 Pa.C.S.A. § 1543) and sentenced to 90 days imprisonment and a fine of $1,000.00. On the day she was caught driving, the defendant was operating an uninsured vehicle to her daughter’s home so she could retrieve her arrhythmia medication which she had mistakenly left there. Defendant appealed her conviction to the Superior Court, alleging that the court should have applied the defense of justification afforded by 18 Pa.C.S.A. § 503(a) to her case.

The justification defense upon which the defendant relied provides that conduct which would otherwise be criminal, is justifiable when the actor believes that conduct “to be necessary to avoid a harm or evil to himself or to another” and the following conditions are met:

(1) the harm or evil sought to be avoided by such conduct is greater than that sought to be prevented by the law defining the offense charged; (2) neither this title nor other law defining the offense provides exceptions or defenses dealing with the specific situation involved; and (3) a legislative purpose to exclude the justification claimed does not otherwise plainly appear.

In determining whether this defense should applied to violations of the vehicle code, the Court considered the instruction of the Supreme Court which noted that §503 “adopts the view that a principle of necessity, properly conceived, affords a general justification for conduct that otherwise would constitute an offense; and that such a qualification, like the requirements of culpability, is essential to the rationality and justice of all penal prohibitions.” Commonwealth v. Capitolo, 498 A.2d 806, 808 (PA 1985).  With the Capitolo ruling in mind, the Superior Court held that “the justification defense is generally applicable to all offenses, absent clear legislative intent to the contrary.” Manera, 827 A.2d at 484. Accordingly, the Court agreed with the defendant that the justification defense could apply to her case and her sentence was vacated to consider the “justification” factors above.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]