Minnesota Supreme Court to Look at “Necessary Drunk Driving” Defense

A Minnesota woman is appealing her 2011 careless driving charge to that state’s Supreme Court on the basis that driving drunk was her only option to flee from domestic violence. Jennifer and Jason Axelberg were drinking with friends at a rural resort when they began to argue. The argument escalated when they returned to their cabin, and Jason Axelberg shoved and hit his wife. When she ran to their car and locked herself in, he punched and broke the windshield. Feeling that she had no other way to escape, Jennifer Axelberg started the vehicle and drove back to the resort to get help.

Though her husband was charged with, and eventually convicted of, domestic assault, Jennifer Axelberg was also charged with DWI. The charge was reduced to careless driving, resulting in a revocation of her license for 6 months. Her driving privileges have since been restored, but Axelberg is pursuing her appeal. She hopes that the Minnesota Supreme Court will grant her a “necessary” defense to clear her record and to bring light to the plight of domestic violence victims.

Precedence In Canada

Axelberg’s defense could work. In October, a Saskatchewan woman was acquitted of drunk driving charges when the judge determined that getting in her car was her only option to escape a violent situation. Serena Maxay was drinking with her cousin and a friend at a house where she planned to stay the night when her cousin’s boyfriend showed up drunk. He began tossing furniture and threw Maxay against a wall.

The women tried to get away in Maxay’s car, but the man followed in his truck and hit them, leaving the car inoperable. When police arrived on the scene, they gave Maxay a breath test for alcohol. She was over the legal limit and was charged with drunk driving. But Maxay was acquitted because her actions were deemed necessary based on the gravity of the situation, the threat of immediate peril, and the lack of a legal alternative to escape the threat of harm.

These cases raise some interesting questions. Is drunk driving acceptable if it is the lesser of two evils? What if driving drunk is the only way to help a sick child or an injured person? And even if driving while intoxicated was necessary, should the drivers still face consequences for breaking the law?

Alcohol and Domestic Violence

But perhaps more importantly, these stories illustrate the links between alcohol and domestic violence. Research shows that while substance misuse doesn’t cause someone to become an abuser, there is a strong correlation between substance misuse and incidents of domestic violence. The U.S. Department of Justice notes that in 75% of all cases, the victim perceives the abuser to be under the influence of alcohol. In addition, 61% of domestic violence offenders have alcohol or drug problems, and many use these issues as an excuse for their behavior (“the alcohol made me do it”). Victims of abuse are also more likely to abuse alcohol and drugs.

What do you think of these cases?

4 Responses to “Minnesota Supreme Court to Look at “Necessary Drunk Driving” Defense”

  1. There are exceptions to everything in this world…drunk driving included, I guess. It’s amazing to me how many bad things can happen when you throw alcohol into the mix. With respect to the two incidents detailed in your post, the women did what they had to do…escape as quickly as possible and live another day. God bless…

  2. While those women felt they needed to drive under the influence to save themselves harm, what about the many lives they put at risk by driving drunk? Are those lives worth less than theirs? Protect the individual at the risk of many?! Just something to think about.

    • Hi
      As I , a 4th time DUI [ non-violent] person think on your ‘point’. I would prefer for my daughters to ‘escape’ the PRESENT/Deffinite danger , than the ‘Possible’ danger of another person .Perhaps I have been forntunate to have never hurt anyone Drunk Driving [thank God !], for my 4 dui’s represent a lifetime of drunk driving. I have obviously been in dangerous situations , planning on staying the night, that I felt safer to leave then LITERALY “catch a bullet/knife” . You do bring up something to consider, I agree. I am sober now for allmost 90 days after up to 100 beers a week this summer . With some support from the alcohol monitor ankle bracelet , but mostly I have FINALY quit !! Thank you

  3. I believe that nobody should be aloud to drink and drive no matter how much they have had to drink. I think that policing should be better at night especially if there is a big event going on and at the bars for sure.Also i think in all new cars, that breathalizer should be in the cars and if they go somewhere past a certain time at night they should have to blow into it to start their car. Also if people are getting into trouble with drunk driving, i think that tougher laws should get passed, so they learn a lesson and not be on the road putting other peoples lives in danger.