The Minnesota Supreme Court in State of Minnesota v. Chantel Lynn Carson overturned three convictions of driving while intoxicated by a woman who was arrested for driving while high from inhalant use.
Ms. Chantel Lynn Carson was arrested on three separate occasions and charged with the Minnesota crime of DWI-third degree operating a motor vehicle under the influence of a hazardous substance.
Ms. Carson had been using an inhalant called DFE. DFE is found in the propellant brand Dust-Off, which is used to clean electronic equipment. Scientifically speaking, DFE is the chemical 1,1-difluoroethane.
The issue before the Court was whether DFE was a hazardous substance under Minnesota law. The Court found that DFE was not a hazardous substance, and Ms. Carson’s convictions were overturned.
Facts of the Case
Ms. Carson was arrested three times for driving while high from DFE. The first time, Ms. Carson was found passed out in the drive-thru lane of a restaurant with a can of Dust-Off in the crook of her arm.
A week later, Ms. Carson was found slumped over the wheel of her running vehicle. It took a couple tries to wake her. She was lethargic, and was pale with bloodshot eyes. There were three cans of Dust-Off in the car.
Several months later, Ms. Carson had the cops called on her three times in two hours, when she was seen slumped over the wheel of her car again in different locations. The cops found five cans of Dust-Off when they finally caught up to her.
Blood draws following the arrest found DFE in her blood, along with Clonazepam. She was charged with driving under the influence of a hazardous substance. She filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that DFE was not included as a hazardous substance under Minnesota law.
Minnesota law prohibits operating a vehicle while under the influence of a hazardous substance. The law has a few parts. The law first defines what makes a substance hazardous. And then the law contains a list of certain substances.
A hazardous substance is defined as any chemical or chemical compound that is listed as a hazardous substance under the law. The law goes on to define what are the characteristics of a hazardous substance.
The issue before the Court came to be what it means to “listed” under the law.
The prosecution argued that a hazardous substance is any substance that has the characteristics of a hazardous substances as defined under the law.
Ms. Carson argued the law only prohibited driving under the influence of the actual substances explicitly listed in the statute.
The Court’s Decision
The Court agreed with Ms. Carson. The Court ruled that the law only outlawed driving under the influence of the individual substances explicitly listed in the law, not just any substance that falls under the definition of hazardous.
Simply put, DFE was not a substance that was listed in the statute. Therefore, at the time of the case, driving while high from DFE was not illegal.
How is Michigan Law Different from Minnesota Law?
Driving while intoxicated by an inhalant is already outlawed by Michigan law. The charge would be operating while intoxicated by an intoxicating substance (a somewhat redundant name).
The statutory scheme under Michigan law is different than the Minnesota law. Under Michigan law, driving with any amount of a schedule 1 substance in your system is outlawed. However, for a substance listed under schedules 2 through 5, a person must be ‘under the influence’ of the substance for a conviction.
A chemical that is inhaled such as DFE is not a controlled substance like heroin or cocaine. DFE is otherwise legal to possess. Read about Michigan Inhalant Law for more information on this topic. However, DFE and other inhalants would be considered an intoxicating substance under Michigan law.
An intoxicating substance is defined as a substance in any form, including but not limited to vapors and fumes, other than food, that was taken into the defendant’s body in any manner, that is used in a manner or for a purpose for which it was not intended, and that may result in a condition of intoxication.
Michigan law prohibit driving under the influence of an intoxicating substance. DFE, as well as other inhalants, fall under the category of an intoxicating substance.
In this sense, Michigan law is more broad than Minnesota law for DUI cases.
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Sam Bernstein is a DUI Lawyer.
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