Huffing Certain Substances May Not Be Enough for a DWI Conviction [infographic]

In Minnesota, huffing certain substances while driving a motor vehicle is not illegal and does not constitute a DWI conviction.

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Minnesota Hazardous Substance Laws

Under Minnesota law, driving while under the influence of non-hazardous substances is not considered a crime, and a driver cannot be arrested for a DWI. The chemical, difluoroethane (DFE), found in a common computer cleaning product called Dust-Off is one such substance. It is not listed as a hazardous substance under Chapter 5206 of Minnesota controlled substance laws.

In October 2017, the Minnesota Supreme Court overturned a gross misdemeanor DWI conviction when a woman was charged with huffing and driving. The woman was found unconscious in her car and charged with a DWI for operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of a hazardous substance. The Supreme Court held that Minnesota statutes clearly list all of the hazardous substances that constitute a DWI arrest and conviction, and the chemical found in Dust-Off is not on the list. Several Supreme Court Justices argued that driving while huffing substances like Dust-Off and other inhalants puts drivers and pedestrians at risk of serious harm and even death. In 2012, the Legislature made a brief attempt to modify Minnesota statutes regarding hazardous substances, but efforts failed.

The Dangers of Huffing

Dust-Off is an accessible, inexpensive, over-the-counter product that’s used to remove dust and debris from computers and electronics. It contains canned air and a refrigerant-based gas propellant cleaner that is commonly used for huffing among many teenagers and young adults. According to the Mayo Clinic, huffing Dust-Off can result in sudden death by causing sudden heart failure, even on the first use. The National Institute of Drug Abuse warns that approximately 200 people die every year as a result of huffing inhalants.

Huffing canned air, a toxic poison, has negative immediate and long-term consequences. Since canned air is a refrigerant, it often causes frostbite and restricted movements of the lips, mouth, and throat when inhaled. Repeated inhalant abuse can cause permanent brain damage that leads to irreversible neurological deficits in motor, sensory, and cognitive functions. The CDC warns of serious huffing side effects that include tremors, vision problems, hearing loss, and bone marrow toxicity, as well as damage to major organs including the heart, lungs, liver, and kidneys. Although Dust-Off has serious health consequences, it is not yet considered an illegal or hazardous substance in the state of Minnesota.

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.