Tuesday, March 15, 2011

DUI Appeal of the Day (DAD)- The Defense of Coercion

In Hines v. State of Georgia, --- S.E.2d ----, 2011 WL 782248 (Ga.App.), the police officer Brooks was sent to Buffalo's restaurant in Dublin in response to a call about a fight in progress in the restaurant parking lot. The defendant was seen “[w]hen "backing out in a hurry and he was leaving the parking lot in a big hurry”; and that he was going “[m]uch faster” than normal for a parking lot. Brooks estimated the truck's speed to be at least 25 mph as it exited the lot. In light of the report Brooks had received about a fight in progress, Brooks concluded from his knowledge, training, and experience that the driver of the pick-up truck was involved in the fight and was trying to flee the scene. Brooks pulled his police car in front of the pick-up truck and stopped it in order to question the driver about whether he was involved in the fight. The defendant claimed coercion, because he was trying to avoid a fight in the parking lot. The jury found against the defendant.

First, the appeals court found that there was a reasonable suspicion to stop the defendant's car. The defendant argued that the evidence was insufficient to sustain his convictions because he presented evidence of coercion. Under Georgia law, a person cannot be guilty of any crime, except murder, “if the act upon which the supposed criminal liability is based is performed under such coercion that the person reasonably believes that performing the act is the only way to prevent his imminent death or great bodily injury.” But “[t]he danger must not be one of future violence but of present and immediate violence at the time of the commission of the forbidden act.” Coercion is an affirmative defense, but it is a defense “only if the person coerced has no reasonable way, other than committing the crime, to escape the threat of harm.” The state has the burden to disprove coercion beyond a reasonable doubt.

The court found that the jury verdict against the defendant, in spite of the coercion defense, was not improper:

"On cross-examination, Hines admitted that he was not coerced into driving the car away from the restaurant. Hines testified that an employee of the restaurant asked him to leave; that he drove away to avoid a fight; that he had three or four beers before driving the truck; that he had a cell phone in his possession but he did not attempt to call 911, nor did he ask the Buffalo's employees to call a cab for him; and that the person who was trying to fight him was in the parking lot but was not armed."

NOTE: Although the defense here lost, the case supports the proposition that the defense of coercion IS applicable to a DUI case.

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