Can you drive drunk in a medical emergency?

Police officers continue to hear elaborate excuses for speeding or breaking other traffic laws, especially drunk driving. However, a story out of Modesto, California likely hasn’t been heard or experienced by Phoenix law enforcement.

The man was seen speeding through the town of Marysville when police stopped him. The man explained that his friend (who was in the car) was suffering from extreme pain stemming from a kidney disorder and would likely die if he did not get him to a hospital. He also explained that he had met an ambulance crew near their cabin in a remote mountain town, but the crew was not in any hurry to take him to a hospital to insert a life-saving catheter.

While the man was allowed to transport his friend to a hospital, he was given a sobriety test, which he failed. (His BAC was .10, just above the legal limit). He was arrested for driving under the influence, but the district attorney declined to prosecute the case, given that medical necessity is a defense to criminal drunk driving charges.

However, the California DMV suspended his license as an administrative penalty, since the DMV does not recognize medical necessity as a defense. As such, the man’s attorney petitioned the court to have the arrest record sealed so that he could retain his license. Essentially, he believed that the officer had the discretion to let his client take his friend to the hospital, and since medical necessity negated the criminal charges, the administrative penalties should not be imposed.

The case is compelling because it pits the notion of an actual mistake by a police officer against valid legal defense in determining whether a record may be sealed. A court will decide the matter in a few weeks.

Source:, Modesto man says sick friend led him to drive drunk, April 5, 2013