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Minnesota Supreme Court to hear unusual domestic violence case

The Minnesota Supreme Court is scheduled to hear a case that brings up important issues about domestic violence. The case involves a woman who had her driver's license revoked after she was arrested for drunk driving. Her defense was that she had to drive in order to escape her abusive husband.

The case began with an incident in 2011 in which the woman and her husband got into a drunken argument. The woman said she tried to get away from her husband by sitting in a car, but he jumped on the vehicle and hit the windshield hard enough to crack it. She said she then drove about a mile away to a bar to ask for help. When police arrived, they arrested her for drunk driving. Her blood alcohol level was 0.18, lower than the legal limit, but she pleaded guilty to careless driving and had her license revoked for a year.

The woman and her husband have reconciled since the incident. He pleaded guilty to his own charges stemming from the incident and even testified on his wife's behalf at a hearing about her license revocation. The woman's license was reinstated after a year had passed, but she has said she is appealing the case out of principle.

The necessity defense is a legal theory that holds that people should not be found guilty of a crime they committed during an emergency when it would have been more harmful to follow the law than it was to break it. This particular case rests on legal technicalities and involves a set of circumstances that may be unique. Still, it illustrates some of the advantages and drawbacks of the laws designed to prevent or crack down on domestic abuse.

Not so long ago, police would arrest people on suspicion of domestic assault only if they witnessed the assault themselves. Because domestic assault happens so often in private, this meant that abusers went unpunished. In more recent years, policy makers and law enforcement officers have started to see domestic violence as an escalating pattern of behavior. They see their goal as breaking up this pattern before it ends in death or serious injury. Among the methods of breaking the pattern are orders of protection. With these orders, the law tries to keep abusers away from their victims, and there are serious penalties for violating these orders.

Domestic violence is a complicated problem, and the authorities are still trying to find the most effective solutions to it. Still, Minnesotans who are the victims of domestic abuse should get help as soon as they can to help break these patterns of violence.

Source: Star Tribune, "Minnesota Supreme Court agrees to hear 'necessity defense' case," Abby Simons, Aug. 22, 2013

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