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Axelberg V. Comm’R Of Public Safety (Minn. Supreme Court)

A husband and wife were camping in a remote area. They walked .8 miles to a tavern, drank, and walked back. Once they arrived at their camp sight, they began arguing. The husband pushed the wife and then punched her. The husband had the wife’s cell phone, and she could not run away from him because there were not any nearby places to run to, and he was stronger and faster than her. So she jumped into the car and locked the doors, hoping he would quit attacking her. She did not put the keys in the ignition. The husband jumped on top of the vehicle and started punching the windshield. He punched it so hard that the glass spidered. Fearing for her life, the wife put the keys in the ignition, started the car, and backed it up. The husband still did not jump off. She put it in drive and drove eight tenths of a mile back to the tavern to get help. The deputy even testified there was nowhere else for her to go. The husband chased on foot and when he arrived at the parking lot, a man had to step in to rescue the woman from another attack. The police were called. They charged the husband with domestic assault, but they also charged the wife with DWI because she was over the limit. Ryan Pacyga represented her, arguing that she should not lose her driver’s license because of the “necessity” defense. It’s a rare defense that only applies when someone is facing a severe emergency and that person has no other choice but to break the law to avoid the danger. The Minnesota Attorney General’s Office represented the Commissioner of Public Safety. They fought to keep a DWI on the wife’s driving record. The case went all the way up to the Minnesota Supreme Court. The Supreme Court was split 5-4. Ultimately, the majority of five ruled that the legislature must change the law since they were the ones that created it, and that the current law did not allow for the necessity defense. Ryan Pacyga did not give up. After the decision he testified before the Minnesota legislature, in support of proposed legislation to add the necessity defense to Minnesota DWI cases. The Minnesota legislature agreed and changed the law in direct response to this case. The case received international intention, being reported on as far as England and Australia.