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Should woman lose license for driving drunk to flee abuser? Top state court must decide

Posted Dec 13, 2013 1:20 PM CDT
By Martha Neil

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A Minnesota woman drove less than a mile when she got in the car after drinking in a rural area of the state to avoid her husband's physical abuse, according to her attorney.

But that was enough to cost Jennifer Axelberg her driver's license for six months. Convicted of careless driving in a plea bargain concerning the incident two years ago, she is arguing before the state's highest court, with the help of a pro bono lawyer, that she should have been allowed to present a necessity defense in the Kanabec County matter, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reports.

So far, lower courts have said the defense is not available to Axelberg in a civil license-revocation matter, only in a criminal case.

“So many things are being done to protect victims of abuse,” her lawyer, Ryan Pacyga, told the Minnesota Supreme Court during a Thursday oral argument. “What happened to Jennifer has taken these things a few steps back. She was penalized for saving her own life."

Asked by one of the justices what a driver should do if, say, someone pointed a gun at the head of an intoxicated person and told him to get behind the wheel, attorney John Galus, who represents the state Department of Public Safety, said he would tell his wife, grandmother or daughter to go ahead and violate the law. However, the there is no appropriate basis to overturn the license-revocation decision, he argued.

See also:

ABAJournal.com: "Inebriated man who drove injured friend to hospital wins acquittal in drunken-driving case"

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