Back in August, we shared the story of Jennifer Marie Axelberg, the 39-year-old woman who was convicted of a DWI as a result of an incident near her family cabin in Mora, Minnesota. What made Jennifer’s case unique was that she claimed she only got behind the wheel on the night in question because she feared for her life. You can read to full story here, but he’s a summation of what happened that night.
On May 30, 2011, Jennifer and her husband Jason drove to their family cabin in Mora. After drinking at a nearby resort, the couple returned to their cabin. An argument ensued, and Jennifer claimed her husband pushed her, hit her, and took her cell phone.
Fearing for her safety, Jennifer left the cabin and got into her car. Her husband came outside shortly afterwards and punched the car’s windshield, causing it to crack. Not knowing what would happen if her husband got inside the car, Jennifer started the engine and drove back to the resort with her husband in pursuit on foot. A witness called police, and although Jason was booked on charges of domestic assault and disorderly conduct, Jennifer was arrested on suspicion of driving while impaired.
Jennifer was later convicted of a DWI after chemical tests showed that he had a blood-alcohol content of .18. Like anyone in her position, she appealed the conviction on the grounds of the necessity defense, but an appellate court ruled 2-1 against her. In their majority opinion, the judges stated that Jennifer created an additional risk of injury to the general public by driving while impaired.
Judge Margaret H. Chutich issued a dissenting opinion in the appellate case, saying that the “defense is available in cases where extraordinary circumstances exist.” Citing that Jason had already pleaded guilty to his charges, Chutich said it was clear that a physical altercation had taken place, and she would have reversed the conviction.
The Minnesota Supreme Court has the power to overturn the DWI conviction when they hear the case on Thursday, but some believe reversing the decision will open the door for other DWI offenders to claim they were fleeing from an abusive situation. This could put innocent spouses or drivers at a greater risk of false accusations or injury.
Jennifer has clearly provided enough evidence to prove that her husband had physically assaulted her on the night in question, but there are many other factors that weigh into the decision. For example, Jennifer claimed she only drove because she was rather unfamiliar with the area and sought the safety of the resort. On the other side of the coin, prosecutors can argue that her decision to consume alcohol contributed, at least partially, to the escalating ordeal. Had she stayed under the legal limit, there wouldn’t have been any problem.
We hope Jennifer gets the justice she deserves. Abusive relationships are terrible, and nobody knows how they would react in a similar situation. Thankfully nobody was hurt by Jennifer’s decision to drive, but the outcome could have been a lot worse if she had stayed at the cabin that night. We’ll update the story once the Minnesota Supreme Court issues its ruling.