Necessity defenses in tort and criminal law are always somewhat controversial and rarely successful in criminal prosecutions. However, Lisa Marie Leprowse has secured a reversal of her DUI conviction from the Montana Supreme Court, which ruled that the trial court erred in not allowing her to argue that she drove drunk to avoid a fight.
Here is how the Montana Supreme Court described the underlying facts in Montana v. Leprowse:
On May 12, 2008, Leprowse was charged in District Court with assault with a weapon and DUI. The assault charge was later dismissed. The allegations in support of these charges are as follows. On April 27, 2008, dispatch advised officers in Missoula County that someone had pointed a gun at another individual at the Other Place, a bar in Turah, Montana. Dispatch further advised that the suspect left the Other Place westbound on I-90 in a white SUV heading to a trailer park near the Cross Roads Truck Stop. Dispatch advised the officers that the vehicle was being driven by Leprowse.
Deputy Tillman stopped and processed Leprowse for a DUI. According to the charging documents, Leprowse was cooperative with Deputy Tillman, told the deputy how much she had to drink, and admitted she was intoxicated. Meanwhile, Deputy Schmill went to the Other Place to speak with the victims and witnesses. An individual named Jim Meixner (Meixner) told Deputy Schmill that Leprowse and Stephanie Wahl (Wahl) had been in a physical altercation in the women’s bathroom at the Other Place. Meixner stated that he broke up the fight and separated the women. Meixner and Leprowse were subsequently talking outside the bar on the back patio when Leprowse asked Meixner for her hand gun back. Meixner had been keeping Leprowse’s hand gun at his house. Pursuant to her request, Meixner went to his house and retrieved the gun and brought it to Leprowse.
Meixner told officers that Wahl then came “out of nowhere” and knocked both of them to the ground. Leprowse and Wahl then started calling each other names. Meixner helped Leprowse to her vehicle and she drove away. Meixner told officers that Leprowse did not point the gun at anybody during this time.
Wahl told officers a different story. Wahl claimed that she came out of the bar after her altercation with Leprowse, and saw Meixner and Leprowse kissing on the back patio. When she confronted them, she claimed that Leprowse pulled out her hand gun, pointed it at her head and twice threatened to shoot her. After Leprowse left, Wahl called 911.
Leprowse asked to present an affirmative defense that she was trying to avoid the fight when she drove 14 miles. The prosecution objected and said that she should have stayed in her car and called 911. The trial court barred the defense. However, under MCA § 45-2-212, that state recognizes an affirmative defense:
A person is not guilty of an offense, other than an offense punishable with death, by reason of conduct which he performs under the compulsion of threat or menace of the imminent infliction of death or serious bodily harm if he reasonably believes that death or serious bodily harm will be inflicted upon him if he does not perform such conduct.
The holding of the Court was based on that provision:
We hold that the District Court incorrectly concluded prior to trial that Leprowse could not present evidence in support of the affirmative defense of compulsion. Leprowse alleged the required elements for the compulsion defense. She claimed she was compelled to drive away from the bar due to an imminent threat of serious bodily injury, and that her belief was reasonable. Whether Leprowse was actually compelled to drive the distance of 14 miles, and ostensibly commit a DUI, is at its essence a question of fact based on the circumstances.
Leprowse should be given the opportunity to present evidence which, if accepted by a rational trier of fact, would show that her belief was reasonable and that she was compelled to take the actions that she did. After Leprowse has had an opportunity to present such evidence to the jury, whether she is entitled to receive a jury instruction on her affirmative defense may be decided by the District Court based on the record before it.
The question now is how many Montana drunks will claim bar fights as the cause for their driving.