With one in seven Minnesotans have a DWI on their record, the state has a bustling and active DWI enforcement system comprised of DWI courts, prosecutors, and law enforcement agencies. Minnesota law criminalizes driving while under the influence of either alcohol or drugs, and the police involved in enforcing this law are very strict about making an arrest whenever intoxication is suspected. The number of defenses available to intoxication is fairly low. For instance, your MN DWI defense lawyer could argue that the officers did not have probable cause to stop your car or that the breathalyzer machine was not calibrated properly. However, the Minnesota legislature is now contemplating adding a new line of defense – necessity.
Necessity is a defense to other crimes in Minnesota. For instance, if a crazed serial killer is chasing you with a knife and you run onto another person’s land in order to seek help, you have technically trespassed according to the law. However, you will be excused because it was absolutely necessary for you to trespass for your own safety. When necessity is available, it is the defendant’s burden to prove it existed. To show necessity, the defendant must introduce evidence or testimony that explains that:
- A harm or danger existed to the defendant;
- The defendant did not create this harm or danger;
- The defendant had no choice but to commit the underlying crime;
- The defendant stopped committing the underlying crime once the harm or danger had ended; and
- The harm or danger was greater than the underlying crime he committed.
In the above serial killer example, you could prove the elements of necessity by showing that someone with a history of murdering people was running after you with a knife in his hand with the intent to kill you. You, of course, were not responsible for the serial killer’s decision to try to kill you. In order to get away from the serial killer and save yourself, you had to run off of your property and onto your adjacent neighbor’s property. When the serial killer was apprehended by the Minneapolis police department, you went back to your home. Finally, trespassing to seek help was a very minor crime compared to the imminent threat of death.
So how could necessity be used in DWI defense in Minnesota? Legislators have contemplated situations that give rise to an absolute need to drive a car while intoxicated. In a recent DWI prosecution, a Monticello woman and her husband were drinking during a meal at their cabin. A fight broke out, and her husband began beating her. Even though the alcohol consumed at dinner put her over the legal limit, her only choice to escape her husband was to hop behind the wheel of the car and drive to safety. She did not get in any accidents or injure anyone along the way, but she was stopped by the police and arrested for DWI. Her license was subsequently suspended.
The Minnesota Legislature did respond to this concern by passing legislation allowing a driver of a motor vehicle charged with a DWI to raise a necessity defense in the civil portion of their case known as the “implied consent” hearing. This new necessity defense law went into effect on August 1st, 2015.
Now, in the civil portion of their DWI case, eligible DWI defendants may now able to argue that the threat of violence from a partner or family member outweighs Minnesota’s right to suspend or revoke a driver’s license. Hopefully this law eventually opens the doors for a further extension of the necessity defense, such as driving an injured person to the hospital when no ambulance is available.