Commonwealth v. Capitolo

508 Pa. 372 (1984)



The defense of necessity can be raised only by reasonable persons and only in situations that deal with harms or evils that are readily apparent, recognizable, and reasonably certain to occur.


The defendants were convicted of trespassing when they conducted a sit-in at a local nuclear power plant. The defendants claimed they were justified in their action because they considered the situation an emergency. The first appellate court, finding their defense persuasive, reversed their conviction. The state appealed.


Are the defendant’s absolved of culpability under the defense of justification?




The court held that a necessity defense must prove (1) that the actor(s) were faced with a clear and imminent harm that was not debatable or speculative, (2) that the actor could reasonably expect that their actions would be effective in avoiding this harm, (3) that there were no other legal alternatives to avoid the harm, and (4) that the legislature had not precluded the defense by a clear and deliberate choice regarding the values at issue. Here, the defendants’ choice was neither necessary nor effective to avoid the potential dangers or radioactivity.

Click here to view the full text case and earn your Daily Research Points.