Thomas Carroll Blauvelt

Can you break the law in an emergency? 

Imagine that an emergency situation comes up and you break the law in some way while responding to it. You may feel that your actions are completely justified. But you could still face arrest.

For example, perhaps you are trying to rush an injured friend to the hospital, so you’re breaking the speed limit and driving aggressively. You know that breaking the speed limit is illegal, but your friend’s health comes first. 

Or perhaps you had already been drinking when that person had a medical emergency. You are now driving under the influence but, once again, it’s just because you are putting your friend first. Does this make it legal?

The law does not change

The key thing to remember is that an emergency doesn’t change the law. The legal limit is still in place, the speed limit is still in place and nothing else has been altered. If you break the law, it is still illegal and you could certainly be arrested by the police. There aren’t emergency speed limits or other legal regulations that only come into effect during an emergency.

That said, the authorities may have some grace if they know that it was an emergency. There have been cases of people speeding to the hospital when their spouse is in labor, for instance. The officer pulls the car over, but then ends up giving the couple an escort so that they can quickly safely get to the hospital. The officer also understands that it’s an emergency.

Even so, that officer could technically give out a traffic ticket or make an arrest if they decided it was prudent to do so. Those facing criminal charges need to know exactly what defense options they have.

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