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Date-rape Drunk Driving?

Can it get any more complicated?

If a person drinks and then drives, it’s pretty simple to figure out whether the person should be held responsible for the traffic violations or accidents that occur because of impaired ability to drive. It’s not like someone held the person down, poured liquor into him to make him drunk, and then forced him at gunpoint to climb into a car and drive home.

Or is it?

The Montana Supreme Court is going to give a woman from Missoula the opportunity to attempt to prove that something like that is what happened in her situation. After their 4-3 decision, they sent the case back to a lower court for reconsideration.

Leigh Paffhausen admits that she had taken a small amount of alcohol before she set out to drive, but she says that someone had drugged her drink without her knowledge. She was stopped when she ran a stop sign and then slammed on her brakes at the next stop sign, and she smelled of alcohol and her speech showed impairment as well. She told the police right then that she thought that she had been given a date-rape drug by someone. She therefore does not believe that she should be held responsible for drunk driving, since the drug caused her to behave that way involuntarily.

She was not allowed to use the date-rape drug defense when her case was argued; when the lower courts ruled against her, she appealed to the Montana Supreme Court.

Attorney William E. McCarthy stated in the court brief, “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?” McCarthy also pointed out that there have been other cases in the Missoula area that have made the same claim.

And Justice Jim Rice, who dissented, said, “I am troubled by what the court’s decision means for our state’s continuing struggle with drunk driving and the already difficult problem that DUI cases present for our courts.”

While one might certainly sympathize with women who are given a date-rape drug, one might also ask whether it is possible for such a person to be aware enough of the impairment to mention it to the police, yet not aware enough to realize that she shouldn’t have driven a car.

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