In October, I wrote a post explaining the California law for involuntary intoxication and how it might apply in a DUI case. In California, a person cannot be convicted of a crime if they, through no fault of their own, ingested an intoxicating substance and were, therefore, not conscious of their commission of a crime. Although through a different state’s laws, a Montana woman has made a similar argument in her Montana DUI case.
A Missoula, Montana woman was able to convince the Montana Supreme Court that she should have been able to present evidence that she was involuntarily intoxicated when she was pulled over on suspicion of driving under the influence and her actions were not, therefore, voluntary as required by Montana law.
Leigh Paffhausen was arrested on January 18, 2010 on suspicion of driving under the influence when she ran a stop sign and slammed on her brakes before another stop sign. Shortly after she was charged with DUI, Paffhausen told police that, although she only had a small amount of alcohol to drink, someone had slipped her the date-rape drug GHB and her actions were, therefore, not voluntary. Her attorney filed notice to the court that she intended to use involuntary intoxication as a defense to the charge.
The Missoula Municipal court granted a motion by prosecutors to prevent Paffhausen from presenting evidence that might show involuntary intoxication through the use of date-rape drugs. The county District Court affirmed the ruling. Paffhausen and her attorney appealed to the Montana Supreme Court who decided in a 4-3 decision that the lower court must have a hearing to allow Paffhausen to present evidence that her action may not have been voluntary.
In its brief, the defense presented the paradox in which the prosecution applies date-rape drugs in DUIs and rape cases by asking, “How could a prosecutor in a sexual assault case argue that the purpose and effects of a ‘date rape’ drug is to unknowingly impair victims so they cannot act voluntarily, yet also argue that same victim could physical[ly] and voluntarily operate a vehicle and be charged with a DUI?”
The Montana Supreme Court, in my opinion, correctly answered this question by essentially concluding that the prosecution cannot have its cake and eat it too.
In its opinion the Court said, “Paffhausen believes that she can demonstrate by several independent witnesses and medical professional that she was drugged against her will, that she did not exercise ‘independent judgment’ in taking a ‘date rape’ drug that resulted in her impairment, and that her acts were the result of an ‘independent event’ – the drugging. We conclude that Paffhausen is entitled to raise automatism as an affirmative defense in this case.”
Writing for the majority opinion, Justice James C. Nelson, accurately and eloquently said of the court’s decision, “A hearing is a small price to pay if seeking justice and not simply a conviction is the object of criminal prosecution.”
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