Court Asked to Reconsider DWI Conviction of Domestic Abuse Victim

Updated: 12/12/2013 7:22 PM
Created: 12/12/2013 5:44 PM
By: Beth McDonough

It's been called extreme, even controversial. On Thursday, the Minnesota Supreme Court heard the high-profile case of Jennifer Axelberg.

While her story was argued before the state's highest court, the outcome of it could affect domestic abuse victims across Minnesota.

Jennifer Axelberg is still haunted by domestic violence and the unusual DWI that happened two years ago. Her attorney, Ryan Pacyga, pleaded the case in court and now in public, "create a just remedy for a limited amount of victims of domestic abuse who truly prove I have nowhere else to go, nothing else I could do, please don't penalize me for saving my life."

Pacyga insists Jennifer Axelberg had no choice but to break the law. She and her husband had been drinking and fighting in Kanabec County. Jennifer Axelberg ran to her car for safety, but when her husband shattered the car window she drove off finding help a mile down the road at a campground. Someone then called police.  

Police arrested both of them: Jason Axelberg for domestic assault and Jennifer Axelberg for DWI. She had a .18 on a blood alcohol test. Her license was also revoked.

Officers say she put her life and others at risk. Yet her attorney says, "the harm facing victims of domestic assault is greater than the harm that actually happens to the public, then necessity prevails."

The state contends necessity doesn't count, because of Minnesota's implied consent law, "the statute says the Commissioner of Public Safety shall revoke the license of any one that tests above a certain level," says John Gallus with the Department of Public Safety.

Jennifer Axelberg lost her license for 6 months. She has it back now. She also has a DWI on her driving record for the rest of her life, unless the court intervenes.  

The Domestic Abuse Project tells victims "safety" comes first and the court should consider an exception, "the court should make some kind of decision based on circumstances, based on the reasonableness of her actions," according to Carol Arthur with the Domestic Abuse Project.

Yet, the state argued an exception could open an excuse for driving drunk.

The Minnesota Supreme Court usually issues a ruling within four months.

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