The DUI Necessity Defense: Montana Supreme Court Rules That Woman Can Claim Necessity Defense in Driving Drunk to Avoid Fight

140px-800px-Kriek_BeerNecessity 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.

10 thoughts on “The DUI Necessity Defense: Montana Supreme Court Rules That Woman Can Claim Necessity Defense in Driving Drunk to Avoid Fight”

  1. I was the victim that night…and yes i did catch my husband kissing her and yes she did pull a gun on me that night….he left me and my 3 children to be with this girl….i am and have been a single mom now for 2 years since that night…so whoever said they witnessed this is and left a comment with no name is completely lying…i just told the truth….if you were there you would know the truth….instead you hide behind your lies….why would you care if anyone knew who you were if you were telling the truth….that does not make sense…you only hide behind your lies…..

  2. Oh, CRAP! I forgot one MOST important point!
    A friend of mine and I walked home from a bar 4 blocks from my house. We DID call a cab (waited almost an hour…never showed). It was cold out and we didn’t want to walk but the bar was closing. We had permission to leave his car there. One block from my house, the police stopped us wondering what we were doing walking in the neighborhood at the time of morning. He saw I lived a block away. We were NOT loud or boisterous. We were simply walking. It’s fine to check us because we’re suspicious. What happened NEXT boggles the mind:
    We were both arrested for Pedestrian Under the Influence, driven 5 miles to the station. 30 minutes later we were given our tickets and released…TO WALK HOME! (hmmm…why not call a cab? Well, they let us use the phone to call someone to bond us out, but not for a cab). This was in downtown and with the prevalance of cell phones, the closest payphone was actually FARTHER than walking to my house.
    So let me ask you this: What should I have done?!? I’m sorry for the rant, but that comment about “don’t they have taxis in Wisconsin” or wherever the hell this happened…that REALLY set me off!


    TRUE story!

  3. I just read a few responses and the first one (by Rafflaw) made me laugh my ass off! SURE!!! I’ll wait around for a cab! Of course, in the time it takes the taxi to arrive, you might as well call an ambulance, too! Same goes with calling the police! If they are immediately there and present, FINE! We all know, as a matter of practical life experience, that immediate police presence when calling 911 is VERY rare!
    I’m not condoning drunk driving at all. But come one! There’s a weapon involved and you want me to either: 1) call and WAIT for a taxi or; 2) Call 911, who will get there faster than a taxi, but it only takes a moment to pull a trigger! COME ON!!!
    There’s a saying: “I’d rather be tried by twelve than carried by six”. That is MOST applicable in this case!


  4. as a witness to the whole incident, it was not just the altercation between the two women, a small crowd of people were aggressively coming at her. She was hit in the mouth by one of the men. She had to drive away to avoid being attacked again.
    She was not, by the way, fooling around with another woman’s man, the other woman said she saw them kissing, they were not, I was a witness to that too.
    One more thing, there are no cabs that come out of town that far, even, when called, they refuse.
    and she had a public defender, which makes this case even more incredible.
    I hope this answers some of your questions.
    As a witness, I cannot give my name here.

  5. I am interested to know if the attorney in this case was Court Appointed. If he was, congratulations. I think that the trial attorney was or we would have never heard about this case from any source. If you catch what I mean.

  6. Buddha,

    Turah, MT is outside of Missoula off of I-90. You are correct there is a lot of empty in MT. But I believe that it is about 8 miles SE. It is still a barren stretch of road between the two cities. As far as cab/ taxis go. There are some within the proper.

    But hey lets face it, she was screwing around with another woman’s man. I believe women out number men in the populated city’s. She was gonna get in a world of hurt even without this.

  7. Raff,

    “Do they not have cabs in Montana?”

    No. Not really. Depending on where she was, Montana has a lot of empty.

    It is an interesting defense though. Reminds me of a time I saw a guy get a violation of a restraining order dismissed as void ab initio. Got to admire the creative argument.

  8. Are we sure that this case actually happened in Texas? I have never heard something so ridiculous as this. Do they not have cabs in Montana? Do they not have police that could be called if she was “forced” to drive to avoid the fight? Crazy.

  9. Sounds like a damn good defense to me in Big Sky country.

    Was this a retained or court appointed case?

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