Posted: September 1, 2015
We’ll continue our discussion of DWI defenses in this week’s Sieben|Edmunds DWI Blog series. In our last blog post, we discussed the affirmative defense of necessity. The governor and legislature responded to Axelberg by permitting the necessity defense in an implied consent hearing. Although that was a step in the right direction, inconsistencies remain among the criminal and civil sides of DWI in Minnesota.
On one hand, the criminal side serves to deter and punish impaired driving. On the other hand, there is an interest in promoting safety of the general public. That is why a person who is charged with a DWI may face fines or jail time as punishment, but they also face losing their driver’s license as a way to keep the public safe. In other words, a criminal DWI charge can trigger a civil license revocation.
It would make sense that a DWI defense in a criminal case could also be used in a license revocation hearing, right? That’s not always the case in Minnesota. Many DWI defenses on the criminal side are unavailable on the civil side in an implied consent hearing. In a criminal DWI case one can present defenses such as involuntary intoxication, duress, necessity, alcohol consumption after driving has ceased, and the prescription drug defense. Some of these are permitted by statute and others are common law defenses. Only two affirmative defenses exist on the civil side—reasonable refusal and necessity.
Let’s consider a few fact patterns. In one scenario there is someone who drove while impaired as a result of using a drug according to the terms of their prescription. Another scenario could involve someone who was directed by another person, by force, to drive while impaired. In a third scenario, someone could have become involuntarily intoxicated from ingesting a “spiked” drink. In all three cases, those individuals could potentially avoid criminal liability with a common law or statutory defense. As it stands now, someone under any one of those scenarios could be relieved of criminal charges, yet face the consequence of a lengthy license revocation.
The law needs to change to provide the same defenses on both sides of a DWI case. Injustice would occur when someone successfully raises a defense to the DWI, yet they cannot raise that same defense to avoid a license revocation that resulted from the crime. The Minnesota Supreme Court dissent in Axelberg noted that “implied consent hearings are quasi-criminal, and on that basis provided protections typically reserved for criminal defendants.” That observation by the Court further illustrates the need to provide the same coverage of defenses on both sides of a DWI case. We must move toward having an even playing field in both types of DWI cases to ensure a sense of fairness and avoid an absurd result such as the one in Axelberg.
So much is at stake if you are charged with a DWI. Let the experienced attorneys at Sieben Edmunds PLLC guide you through the process and help get you the best possible result. Give us a call at 651-994-6744 or visit out contact page for more information.
Stay tuned for the next installment in this DWI blog series!