A while back, we wrote about the case of Jennifer Axelberg, the Minnesota woman who was arrested for driving under the influence while attempting to flee from her abusive husband. Axelberg later pleaded guilty to a lessor charge of careless driving , but she appealed the loss of her driver’s license under the Necessity Defense. In order to prove the Necessity Defense, a defendant must prove three things:
- The defendant acted in such a manner to avoid a significant risk of harm; and
- No reasonable lawful means could have been used to escape the harm; and
- The harm avoided was greater than that caused by breaking the law.
Unfortunately for Axelberg, the appellate court rejected her appeal in a 2-1 decision. In the majority opinion, the judge wrote that Axelberg created a substantial risk to the general public by choosing to drive drunk.
Taking it to the Minnesota Supreme Court
Jennifer didn’t stop there, though. Knowing that the appellate court was divided on their ruling, Axelberg decided to appeal her case to the Minnesota Supreme Court, saying that she was “fighting for others who might get into this situation.” But for Axelberg, it was deja vu all over again, as a sharply divided group of justices ruled against her appeal in a 4-3 decision.
Justices on both sides issued strong opinions and spoke about the harmful precedence that would be set by the opposing opinion. Chief Justice Lorie Skjerven Gildea wrote in her 14-page majority opinion that Minnesota’s Implied Consent law doesn’t allow a person to use the Necessity Defense as an argument when it comes to challenging a license revocation.
Justice Alan Page, who disagreed with the majority opinion, said that the ruling is a slap in the face to individuals who have no other options when faced with physical or sexual assault.
“The decision implies that the necessity defense is unavailable not only in cases of domestic abuse, but also in cases in which a victim’s seeking refuge from a violent physical or sexual assault or kidnapping, and the court’s decision thus discourages those individuals from seeking shelter in a motor vehicle as well,” Page wrote.
Attorney Avery Appelman agreed with Justice Page.
“I think the majority opinion actually empathized with Jennifer, but they feared that applying the Necessity Defense would open up a theoretical ‘out’ for drunk drivers to claim they were fleeing an abuser,” said Appelman. “In actuality, Jennifer’s situation was so unique and the evidence against her abuser was so strong that very few future cases would meet the same circumstances. Jennifer should have had her license reinstated.”
Related source: Star-Tribune