Court: Necessity defense not available in implied consent case

We have often discussed that the criminal case following a drunk driving charge is not necessarily a stand-alone issue after an arrest for driving while impaired in Minnesota. Our state law sets up an administrative procedure for the state to revoke a driver’s license after a DWI arrest. While a person charged with DWI is called into criminal court to answer the allegations, a driver must act promptly to challenge the administrative implied consent license revocation issue, or lose the right to raise the challenge.

An implied consent proceeding is a civil court issue, and state statutes limit the scope of what may be raised as a defense to a license revocation. A recent decision from the Minnesota Court of Appeals shows that the available defenses in an implied consent proceeding may bring about harsh results.

A woman says that she and her husband had been taking some time off at their family cabin in May of 2011. The couple reportedly visited a resort and later returned to their Mora, Minnesota area cabin. The two were quarreling, and the woman eventually felt in danger and decided to leave the cabin during a domestic dispute. Ultimately, she was arrested on suspicion of DWI and quickly filed a timely challenge to her associated DWI loss of license.

The woman argued that the courts should rescind the license revocation because she was in peril and had no alternative but to drive to protect herself. The legal argument is known as the necessity defense in the context of criminal law.

The Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday in a split decision that the implied consent license revocation statute does not allow raising the necessity defense in an implied consent proceeding. The court essentially did not rule on the defense on its merits in the case, but said that it was up to the legislature to change the statute to allow raising such a defense in the civil case.

A dissenting judge disagreed, writing that despite specific authority in the statute she “believe[s] that the defense is available in cases where extraordinary circumstances exist,” according to KMSP-TV. She acknowledges in the dissent that Minnesota Supreme Court decisions recognize the defense in criminal cases and in instances where statutes do not specifically provide for the defense.

It is not clear from the media whether or not any appeal is planned (the Minnesota Supreme Court has discretion on what cases to accept with few specified exceptions, such as direct first-degree murder appeals).

Source: KMSP-TV My Fox Twin Cities, “Minn. Court of Appeals upholds DWI of woman fleeing domestic violence,” Shelby Capacio, June 10, 2013

He has won jury trial cases in misdemeanor and felony cases and in DWI’s and non-DWI’s. He is a member of the Minnesota Society for Criminal Justice, which only allows the top 50 criminal defense attorneys in the state as members. He is a frequent speaker at CLE’s and is often asked for advice by other defense attorneys across Minnesota.

What to Do If You Have Been Charged with a Criminal Offense

Involve a criminal appeal attorney soon after you learn the prosecution is appealing your sentence. Your attorney will walk you through the involving and confusing sentencing guidelines. An attorney's involvement will also help you develop a defense strategy for the appeal.