Huffing Dust-Off isn't enough for DWI, Minnesota Supreme Court rules

The ruling overturns a woman's DWI convictions.

The Minnesota Supreme Court's latest ruling could force lawmakers to take another look at the state's DWI laws, and possibly rewrite them altogether.

On Wednesday, the state's highest court reversed the DWI convictions of a woman named Chantel Lynn Carson, who was arrested on three separate occasions (twice in late 2014, and once in 2015) for driving while high on Dust-Off.

The compressed air cans are typically used to blow dirt out of computer keyboards, but people often huff the fumes to get high, thanks to a key ingredient called difluoroethane (DFE).

In its 10-page ruling, the Minnesota Supreme Court said they threw out Carson's convictions because that chemical – DFE – is "not listed as a hazardous substance" under the state laws that cover impaired driving.

"The statutory language plainly demonstrates that the types of hazardous substances that can give rise to a driving-while-impaired conviction are limited to those substances specifically listed" in the law, the majority opinion reads. 

In other words, DFE isn't on that "list," so it can't technically count as grounds for a DWI conviction.

The process by which the judges arrived at this conclusion included a lot of hair-splitting over the language of the statutes (including what it means to "to be listed"). 

It also involved looking at "dictionary definitions to determine the plain meaning of words," and in the end, the court found that "a driver dangerously intoxicated by DFE is not criminally liable under the plain language of the current DWI statutes."

So what happens next?

The ruling seems to put the ball back in the state Legislature's court, as that's who is responsible for writing the DWI laws – and leaving DFE out of them – in the first place.

"If the Legislature had wanted to criminalize the operation of a motor vehicle while knowingly under the influence of any substance" that can cause impaired driving, the court states, "it knew how to do so and could have done so explicitly" by using more specific terminology.

But at least one of the judges disagreed, and sided with the state of Minnesota against Carson. 

Writing the dissenting opinion, Associate Justice Anne McKeig argued the wording of the law actually does leave room for DFE to be considered one of those "hazardous substances."

"Under the court’s interpretation of the statute, Minnesotans may inhale Dust-Off and then drive at their pleasure while endangering their fellow citizens," McKeig said. "This impunity cannot be what the Legislature intended."

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