Trial court: Necessity defense unavailable in civil license revocation challenge

A Monticello woman recently requested a civil implied consent hearing to challenge her license revocation after being arrested for driving while impaired. The administrative and civil license revocation issues operate separately from the criminal case following a Minnesota DWI arrest. The Monticello woman sought to have her license reinstated, arguing before the court that she was behind the wheel at the time of her DWI arrest to escape domestic violence.

The woman says that she had been drinking with her husband at a bar in Mora. She says that some kind of domestic dispute erupted and after she had left the tavern, she found herself in her car with her husband on the hood of the vehicle. She says that he was striking the windshield with his fists, sending spider cracks through the safety glass. The woman says that she drove the car to escape the domestic conflict, returning to the safety of the tavern where she had been earlier in the evening.

She says that necessity dictated that she avoid the domestic violence. But the Kanabec County judge denied the necessity defense in the civil implied consent proceeding. The judge ruled that “the episode of domestic violence here is outweighed by the potential hazards [the woman] created for the public when she drove her vehicle while intoxicated.”

Generally, under Minnesota law, the necessity defense allows a person to exercise judgment in choosing between two harms. The necessity defense is generally a legally cognizable defense for a person charged with a crime and is available “if the harm that would have resulted from compliance with the law would have significantly exceeded the harm actually resulting from the defendant’s breach of the law.”

The judge ruled that the necessity defense is not available in civil implied consent license revocation proceedings. The state had argued allowing a driver to escape civil liability in an implied consent proceeding would serve no public policy.

The woman argued that she should not be sanctioned in civil court for seeking safety from an alleged domestic abuse situation. She says that she was in a remote area, and that her husband had taken her cellphone. She says that she could not call for help and had no choice but to drive to safety.

The woman’s husband had reportedly been arrested on the same night as her DWI arrest. He was arrested on suspicion of domestic violence and disorderly conduct, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Source: Minneapolis Star Tribune, “Driving drunk to escape attack will cost driver license, Abby Simons, July 17, 2012

Max Keller has won countless jury trial cases involving misdemeanors and felonies, sex crimes, and 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. Max is a frequent speaker at CLE’s and is often asked for advice by other defense attorneys across Minnesota.

Years of Experience: Approx. 20 years
Minnesota Registration Status: Active
Bar & Court Admissions: State of Minnesota Minnesota State Court Minnesota Federal Court 8th Circuit Federal Court of Appeals State of Maryland

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