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Minnesota Supreme Court agrees to hear 'necessity defense' case

Posted by: Abby Simons under Public safety Updated: August 22, 2013 - 4:52 PM

The Minnesota Supreme Court will hear the case of a Monticello woman whose driver's license was revoked after she drove drunk to escape an abusive husband.

Jennifer Axelberg, 39, is challenging the revocation in connection with a spring 2011 incident near Mora, which Axelberg's attorney, Ryan Pacyga, argued fell under the state's "necessity defense." The necessity defense is used in emergencies where the damage that could result from obeying the law outweighs the harm caused by breaking it. In this case, he said, it should also apply to the state's implied consent law.

Axelberg had sought shelter in her car parked outside a Kanabec County family cabin following a fight with her husband. Both had been drinking. When her husbanmd jumped ont he car and pounded on the windshield so hard it cracked, she drove less than a mile to a tavern to get help. There, she was arrested on suspicion of drunken driving.

Axelberg, whose blood-alcohol level registered 0.18 percent, pleaded guilty to careless driving. She reconciled with her husband, Jason, who pleaded guilty to his charges and testified on her behalf at the revocation hearing. Although Axelberg's yearlong revocation period is up, Pacyga said they will appeal the case on principle.

Axelberg pleaded guilty to careless driving, but her license was revocked in a separate action. Although the driving offense is considered a criminal matter, the revocation is a civil matter under the implied consent law.

A District Court Judge and the Minnesota Court of Appeals both sided against Axelberg. District Judge Stoney HIljus reasoned that the the criminal-based necessity defense can't be used in a civil action, and that "the episode of domestic violence here is outweighed by the potential hazards (Axelberg) created for the public when she drove her vehicle while intoxicated."

The Appeals Court said in June that if the necessity defense is applicable, it is up to the Legislature to modify the statute to say so.

Oral arguments before the Supreme Court will likely take place in a few months.

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