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Necessity defense unavailable in Minnesota DWI license revocation

When a person is accused of driving while impaired in Minnesota, he or she may not be aware that the state will revoke the person’s driving privilege. While police may provide a notice of revocation, it is important for people to understand that the DWI revocation is handled separately from the criminal charges.

The law allows for a person accused of DWI to challenge the license revocation. But, because the license issue is considered a civil matter, the person must file the proper paperwork within a limited amount of time to preserve the right to challenge the revocation. The time line is only 30 days, and in some cases, that time may run out before a person is scheduled to appear in criminal court. It is important to seek representation as soon as possible after being arrested for DWI.

The issues that may be raised to challenge a DWI revocation are governed under the Minnesota DWI and implied consent statutes. The Minnesota Supreme Court recently ruled that a woman who was seeking shelter in her car and was forced to flee from a remote area to avoid injury in a domestic dispute could not raise the long-standing common law defense of necessity to challenge her license revocation.

The high court was sharply divided, with three of the seven justices writing dissenting opinions. Justice Alan Page says that the majority opinion fails to adhere to “the constitutional mandate to do justice,” according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

The necessity defense has long been recognized in civil and criminal proceedings and is a narrow defense that applies in limited circumstances. As Justice Page says, the majority opinion essentially says that having a driver’s license revoked is a small price for someone to face in order to save his or her own life.

In general, the necessity defense is recognized in Minnesota case law, but the majority opinion says that the Minnesota license revocation law associated with DWI offenses does not authorize the court to recognize the defense. The woman involved in the underlying challenge was convicted of careless driving. However, her license was revoked after she tested 0.16 percent blood alcohol content after driving a short distance to escape an alleged violent outburst from her husband.

The issues in a DWI case, as well as an implied consent license revocation can be complex. A DWI defense lawyer may provide advice and representation in challenging the allegations in the civil and criminal proceedings.

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

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