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Drunk driving case complex, tests contours of law

Although the case details we present in today's blog post pertain to a matter that occurred outside California, we pass them along to our readers for a number of reasons.

First, we believe the case to be broadly relevant for the drunk driving defense considerations it presents; the matter could have easily occurred anywhere in the United States. Second, the matter amply illustrates the way in which laws and their interpretation can collide with public policy, which often leads to legal change. And third, the case underscores how complex a given DUI matter can be and why it is important for any person charged with a drunk driving offense to secure proven and aggressive legal representation.

Here’s what happened. A fight broke out between a woman and her drunk husband while they were at a cabin in rural Minnesota in 2011. The woman fled, believing she was in serious physical danger. While she was in her car, her pursuing spouse smashed the vehicle’s windshield.

She drove off, traveling less than a mile. Unfortunately, she did so while having a blood-alcohol level of 0.16, and she was arrested for DUI. She subsequently pleaded to careless driving and lost her license for several months.

She fought the charge, all the way to the state’s Supreme Court, with justices ruling against her earlier this month in a closely contested decision. In a 4-3 decision, the majority ruling stated that court’s hands were tied, with the necessity defense raised by the woman being unavailable because it is absent as a defense to a license revocation under the state’s relevant statutory law.

One dissenting justice stated that his brethren in the majority showed an “unwillingness to read the law to avoid manifest injustice.” Another said that the court failed its duty “to do justice.”

Although not every case pits a drunk driving charge against a defense based on a compelling need to drive in order to escape grave danger, of course, many DUI cases are complex and involve mitigating factors. A proven drunk driving defense attorney can help identify important considerations and forcefully argue them on behalf of any motorist facing criminal charges.

Source: Minneapolis Star Tribune, “Minn. Supreme Court rejects DWI defense for fleeing abuse,” David Chanen, May 21, 2014

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