Necessity Defense in California

The defense of necessity, unlike duress, is not codified in California. The necessity defense is founded upon public policy and provides a justification distinct from the elements required to prove the crime. To sustain a necessity defense, the defendant must establish he violated the law (1) to prevent a significant evil, (2) with no adequate alternative, (3) without creating a greater danger than the one avoided, (4) with a good faith belief in the necessity, (5) with such belief being objectively reasonable, and (6) under circumstances in which he did not substantially contribute to the emergency. (In re Eichorn (1998) 69 Cal.App.4th 382, 388.) A defendant is not entitled to a claim of necessity unless, given the imminence of the threat, violation of the law was the only reasonable alternative. (U.S. v. Bailey (1980) 444 U.S. 394, 410.) If there was a reasonable, legal alternative to violating the law, the defense will fail. (Ibid.) In other words, the necessity defense does not arise from a "choice" of several sources of action, but is instead based on a real emergency. (United States v. Dorrell (9th Cir. 1985) 758 F.2d 427, 431.) In California, the defense of duress is codified in section 26, subdivision six. The defendant must show (1) the act was done under threats or menaces; (2) he or she had an actual belief his or her life was threatened; and (3) he or she had reasonable cause for such belief. Duress is an effective defense only when the actor responds to an immediate and imminent danger. A fear of future harm to one's life does not relieve one of responsibility for the crimes he or she commits. Duress negates the intent/capacity element of the crime charged. (People v. Heath, supra, 207 Cal. App. 3d at p. 900.)