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Necessity defense applicable in civil implied consent hearing?

Throughout the state of Florida law enforcement officers are on the roads, pulling over and arresting individuals for drunk driving. When someone is charged with drunk driving they will face not only the criminal case but a civil implied consent hearing as well. The outcome of the civil hearing determines whether a driver will lose his or her driver's license.

A woman in another state has taken her license revocation to the state's Supreme Court. The woman was arrested for drunk driving in rural Minnesota a couple of years ago after driving less than a mile. Though she eventually pled guilty to a lesser charge of careless driving, her license was nonetheless revoked for six months as a part of an implied consent hearing. While many would see this as a good outcome overall, the woman is challenging the revocation to make a point, based on what is referred to as the necessity defense.

The idea behind this defense is that what could have happened if she had not driven while intoxicated is much worse than breaking the law in that way. When the woman was arrested she said she was fleeing a domestic violence situation that involved her drunk husband. Though she indicated she initially got in the car for protection, when he shattered the windshield, fearing for her safety she started the vehicle and drove away. Following the incident her husband pled guilty to domestic abuse.

In the arguments before the high court, the woman's lawyer asserted that the necessity defense should be allowed as an affirmative defense at the implied consent proceeding. The lower courts have not agreed with that line of reasoning ruling that the defense is only applicable in criminal cases, not a civil license-revocation hearing.

If the necessity defense is accepted as a defense to implied consent in this case, it is possible that other states, like Florida, would take note.

Source: Star Tribune, "Tricky case before Minnesota top court: Drunken driver who fled abuser," David Chanen, Dec. 13, 2013

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