DWI of woman fleeing domestic violence argued at Supreme Court of Minnesota

CREATED Dec. 13, 2013

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ST. PAUL, Minn. (KMSP) - The DWI conviction of a Minnesota woman who was attempting to flee a domestic assault will be argued before the state Supreme Court Thursday morning.

Jennifer Marie Axelberg appealed her conviction on the grounds that she needed to flee for her safety after an argument with her husband turned physical at a family cabin in Kanabec County. She asked the district court to permit her to use the affirmative defense of necessity, but they refused. 

The case went before the Minnesota Court of Appeals last June, which affirmed the lower court's decision.

Axelberg testified that she only entered the car because she had no other options. Her husband was blocking the door to the cabin, had taken her cell phone and could outrun her in an area that was unlit and unfamiliar to her.

FACTS OF THE CASE

On May 30, 2011, Axelberg and her husband had driven to the family cabin near Mora, Minn., and later went to the Fish Lake Resort, which was just under a mile away. While there, the Axelbergs drank alcohol and began to argue.

Axelberg and her husband, Jason, returned to their cabin at about 1:30 a.m. and both were intoxicated when they began to argue again. This time, the argument quickly escalated to physical violence, with Jason Axelberg pushing his wife in the chest and hitting her on the head twice.

Since he had also taken her cell phone and she feared he would continue to assault her, Jennifer Axelberg got into the couple's car and locked the doors. At that point, Jason Axelberg climbed onto the vehicle and hit the windshield with his fist, cracking the glass in "a spider pattern," according to court documents.

Jennifer Axelberg said she feared her husband would get inside and continue the assault, so she started the car and drove away as he shouted and ran after the car. She drove back to Fish Lake Resort, and Jason Axelberg arrived soon after. A bystander called police and intervened to stop him from continuing to act aggressively toward his wife.

A responding deputy reported that Jennifer Axelberg did not have physical injuries and appeared calm when he arrested Jason Axelberg on domestic assault and disorderly conduct charges. Jason Axelberg later pleaded guilty to both offenses.

Jennifer Axelberg was also arrested on suspicion of driving while impaired, and the commissioner of public safety revoked her driver's license under the implied-consent statute.

THE NECESSITY DEFENSE

The necessity defense is a common-law, affirmative defense that has previously been applied in criminal cases and is applied "only in emergency situations where the peril is instant, overwhelming, and leaves no alternative but the conduct in question."

To successfully assert the defense, a defendant must show that they had no other option but to violate existing law by demonstrating that the harm resulting from obeying the law would significantly exceed the harm caused by breaking it.