State of Minnesota v. Chantel Lynn Carson. MN DWI, gas duster
The Minnesota DWI statute, Minn. Stat. 169A.20, prohibits persons from driving when "under the influence of a hazardous substance that affects the nervous system, brain, or muscles of the person so as to substantially impair the person’s ability to drive or operate the motor vehicle."
In 2015, police in Steele County responded to reports of a person slumped over in her vehicle. The reports came from numerous parking lots and the drive through of a restaurant. When police responded to these reports, the car was gone, but they eventually caught up with the driver, who was slumped over in another parking lot. After numerous attempts to wake her, she finally responded. Her eyes were watery and bloodshot, her face was sweaty and pale, the was lethargic, her speech was slurred, and one of her hands twitched.
The officer observed a cans of gas duster (the aerosol product normally used to clean a keyboard), one of which was extremely cold. She tested positive for 1,1-difluoroethane, known as DFE, commonly seen as the "Dust-Off" brand, the contents of the product.
At a hearing, an expert testified that the product was commonly abused as an inhalant. The district court concluded that DFE was a "hazardous substance" for purposes of the DWI statute. She was ultimately convicted, and appealed to the Minnesota Court of Appeals.
The appeals court first noted that DFE is toxic and can even prove fatal. In addition, it can cause frostbite, and it is flammable. Therefore, it quickly concluded that DFE is a "hazardous substance." It noted that courts in other states had agreed that the substance could be the basis for a DWI conviction.
For these reasons, the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court's ruling.
No. A15-1678 (Minn. Ct. App. Sep. 6, 2016).
Please see the original opinion for the court's exact language.
Richard P. Clem is an attorney and continuing legal education (CLE) provider in Minnesota. He has been in private practice in the Twin Cities for 25 years. He has a J.D., cum laude, from Hamline University School of Law in St. Paul and a B.A. in History from the University of Minnesota. His reported cases include: Asociacion Nacional de Pescadores a Pequena Escala o Artesanales de Colombia v. Dow Quimica de Colombia, 988 F.2d 559, rehearing denied, 5 F.3d 530 (5th Cir. 1993), cert. denied, 510 U.S. 1041 (1994); LaMott v. Apple Valley Health Care Center, 465 N.W.2d 585 (Minn. Ct. App. 1991); Abo el Ela v. State, 468 N.W.2d 580 (Minn. Ct. App. 1991).
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