Court upholds DWI penalty for woman who fled abusive husband

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The Minnesota Supreme Court ruled Wednesday against a woman who lost her license for driving drunk to escape a fight with her abusive husband.

Jennifer Axelberg, 39, of Monticello, had argued that she shouldn’t have had her driver’s license revoked for the DWI, because she was fleeing from a situation that could have been far more serious, MPR News reports.

Axelberg and her husband, Jason, were at their cabin in Kanabec County in May 2011 and got in a fight after drinking alcohol, according to MPR News. Her husband hit Axelberg on the head, so she ran to her car and drove about a mile to a nearby resort. A police officer there arrested her husband for assault, and arrested her for drunk driving.

Axelberg cited the "necessity defense," claiming the damage that could have resulted from obeying the law and not driving outweighed the harm caused by breaking it. In this case, she argued, she could have been beaten by her husband, the Star Tribune reports.

The Minnesota Court of Appeals panel ruled against her in June, saying that defense doesn't apply to Minnesota's "implied consent" law, which requires a driver to submit to a blood alcohol test or lose his or her driver’s license.

According to the Star Tribune, the Supreme Court upheld that decision Wednesday on a divided 4-3 vote.

In her majority opinion, Chief Justice Lori Gildea wrote that the court is upholding the law as it's written.

“Axelberg and our dissenting colleagues argue that is it bad public policy to force victims of domestic abuse to choose between license revocation and personal safety. This public policy concern should be directed to the Legislature because we must read this state’s laws as they are, not as some argue they should be.”

Justice Alan Page dissented, saying he believes the majority decision will discourage victims of domestic abuse from fleeing their attackers.

“Today the court, in essence, concludes that losing the privilege to drive is a small price to pay for saving your life,” Page wrote.

The Axelbergs are sober now and have gone through counseling, according to the Star Tribune.

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