The Minnesota Court of Appeals recently refused a defense by a convicted drunk driver to toss out her charges on the grounds that she was driving drunk out of necessity. The woman claimed in a recent court case that she was only behind the wheel because she was being physically abused by her husband and had to flee the vacation cabin they were staying in.
The case concerned a woman, the appellant, who argued that she was fleeing for her life from her violent husband when she was arrested for drunk driving and that this should serve as a necessity defense against the crime. Police say that the appellant was charged with DWI and had her driver’s license revoked after they discovered her behind the wheel with a 0.18 BAC.
According to an incident report filed at the time, the woman and her husband were vacationing when they got into an argument. The two were at a family cabin in Mora, MN when her husband began pushing his wife and hitting her in the head repeatedly. Appellant says that her husband threatened even more violence and, to escape the abuse, she jumped in the family car and locked the doors. Her husband refused to relent and climbed on top of the vehicle and began smashing the windshield to get at his wife. At that point, appellant feared that he would get into the vehicle so she drove away, despite being impaired.
A concerned neighbor alerted police to the incident and when they arrived they arrested the husband for domestic assault. At the same time, the appellant was detained and ordered to submit to a field sobriety test. When the results revealed that she was indeed intoxicated police charged her with DWI and revoked her license.
A district court that initially heard the case refused to toss out the charges based on the abuse and the Minnesota Court of Appeals followed suit, upholding the lower court’s decision. In the case, Judge Randolph Peterson agreed that appellant was being threatened with serious physical harm, but determined that the woman only created a greater possibility of danger by deciding to drive away from the scene of the abuse. Judge Peterson said that by getting behind the wheel appellant subjected herself and other innocent Minnesotans to harm. The Court found that by driving while intoxicated, the woman created a serious risk of harm to herself and others which the state drunk driving laws directly address.
In a strong dissent, Judge Margaret Chutich said that she believed appellant truly feared for her safety and had no alternative but to break the law. Chutich said that the harm appellant faced was imminent and that there was a direct link between her illegal actions and prevention of the harm. Given that, Chutich says that she believes the woman’s conviction should be reversed.
For her part, the appellant says she will be appealing the recent decision all the way to the state Supreme Court. The woman says she and her husband have since reconciled, but only after both agreed to go into an alcohol treatment program to get sober.
To read the full opinion, click here.