A botched armed robbery led to a strange turn of events when the store clerk locked the robber inside the building until the police showed up.
The unique facts of the case provide an opportunity to talk about the legal defense of necessity.
Clerk Locks Armed Robber Inside Store
The clerk of a Boost Mobile store near the intersection of North 5th Street and West Somerset Street says that the man had entered earlier in the day asking about iPhones. When he returned to the store a second time after 5 p.m. on October 22, he brought a gun and demanded cash. The clerk said that he didn't have any on him, but that he could get some if the robber would let him leave.
The robber let the clerk leave the store. The clerk locked the door on his way out, trapping the man inside, and called the police.
The armed robber shot at the glass at the front of the store to try breaking it, but it didn't work. He also went into the basement for another way out, but the doors down there to neighboring businesses were locked. He tried shooting through them, as well, to no avail.
A SWAT team responded and nine minutes after the incident began the store was barricaded. An hour later the armed robber was arrested and his weapon recovered. He is being charged with:
- Possessing instruments of a crime
- Reckless endangerment
- Theft by receiving stolen property
- Aggravated assault
- Terroristic threats
The Crime of False Imprisonment
18 Pa. Cons. Stat. 2903 defines the crime of false imprisonment in Pennsylvania as knowingly and unlawfully restraining someone in substantial interference with their liberty. Technically speaking, locking someone else inside a store with no way to escape is a classic example of false imprisonment.
However, it is very unlikely that the store clerk will even be charged with false imprisonment – a second-degree misdemeanor – because he has such a strong necessity defense.
Why the Defense of Necessity Works
People accused of a crime can defend their actions by arguing that what they did was necessary to prevent something worse from happening. Given the threat and the danger that the defendant was facing, they had no choice but to do something that was technically illegal. There was also no other, legal way to prevent the harm from happening, and the defendant was not responsible for getting into the situation that caused the danger.
Given the preliminary facts so far, it seems pretty clear that the clerk could make a strong necessity defense.
Joseph D. Lento: Criminal Defense in Philadelphia
The necessity defense is not a very common one, but it does present itself as the best avenue of defense from time to time. When it is even a weak defense, though, it can be enough to deter prosecutors from filing what would be an unpopular criminal allegation against someone who took action to prevent something far more severe from happening.