Thursday, May 22, 2014

Should Domestic Violence Victim's Be Prosecuted for DUI to Escape A Violent Situation?

In a recent decision rendered by the Minnesota Supreme Court, the Court ruled in a 4-3 decision that victims of domestic violence are not immune from prosecution for driving under the influence while escaping a violent situation.  The Chief Judge, writing for the majority, wrote:

The Domestic Violence victim "contends that she was in fear for her life and that she made the only choice she could, given her husband’s violent behavior. But it is also true that when she made that choice, and drove with an alcohol concentration that was more than twice the legal limit, Axelberg created a substantial risk to public safety."

The Rhode Island Supreme Court has not addressed this issue, however I find the logic and rational put forward by the dissent in this case much more persuasive.  The dissent wrote that it is "bad public policy to force victims of domestic abuse to choose between license revocation and personal safety," with which I completely agree.

A scenario that happens more than you might think

In my experience as a Rhode Island criminal defense lawyer, I have run into this situation a number of times and this is a scenario that happens more than you might think.  Oftentimes, this comes from other motorists reporting either erratic driving or a domestic situation in progress.  While the Minnesota Supreme Court clearly took the position, although in a 4-3 decision, that victims of domestic violence should not drive under the influence even if they are attempting to flee a violent situation.  Obviously, the key aspect of these cases is to ensure that the victim of domestic violence needs to escape the violent situation.  While it may not be that an individual is immune from prosecution for driving under the influence, there may be a defense available.

The Defense of Necessity Should Be Used in These Cases

The defense of necessity is a common law defense of justification.  Similar to self-defense in that it does not change the fact that the defendant committed a criminal act, it justifies the action and should result in a not guilty verdict.  The typical law school example is an individual who sees a tornado coming and breaks into a home to get into the basement and avoid the wrath of the tornado.  The act of breaking and entering the home is surely a criminal offense, but the defense of necessity justifies the action and should result in a not guilty verdict.  In the situation involving domestic violence, the victim should be able to put forth a necessity defense.  However, to put forward such a defense they will need to prove a few important facts: (1) that they were truly in danger of imminent harm, (2) that they did not drive more than necessary to escape the danger, and (3) that they had no other option to escape the danger.  If they can prove these facts, they should be able to successfully put forth a defense of necessity and the result should be one of not guilty.

The Law Offices of Matthew T. Marin, Esquire, Inc.

If you or a loved one has been charged with driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs or any other criminal offense in Rhode Island, you need to immediately call Attorney Matthew Marin for skilled and aggressive criminal defense representation.  We will begin working immediately to ensure that your rights are protected and that you can put the best defense possible forward.  Attorney Marin is available 24/7 to discuss your case and to schedule a no fee, confidential consultation at one of our convenient office locations.  Contact us today by phone at 401-228-8271 or email at, or fill out the contact form on our Website.  If you need help with a crime involving drugs or domestic violence or a car accident, visit our drug defense website, our domestic violence website, our car accident website.

PHONE: 401-228-8271