The Montana Supreme Court has ruled that a Missoula woman charged with drunken driving should have the opportunity to present evidence she was given a date rape drug and that her actions were involuntary.
Leigh Paffhausen’s case was sent back to a lower court following the 4-3 opinion last week, The Missoulian reported.
Paffhausen contended she drank a small amount of alcohol before she was pulled over on Jan. 18, 2010, but said someone drugged her without her knowledge. The Missoula Municipal Court granted a motion by the city of Missoula preventing Paffhausen from using the date rape drug defense, a decision affirmed by the district court. But a majority on the Montana Supreme Court disagreed.
“A hearing is a small price to pay if seeking justice and not simply a conviction is the object of criminal prosecutions,” wrote Justice James C. Nelson.
Justice Jim Rice, one of the three who dissented, wrote: “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.”
Police said they pulled over Paffhausen when an officer saw her run a stop sign and then slam on her brakes to stop at another sign. Court documents say Paffhausen’s breath smelled of alcohol and her speech was slow and slurred. Paffhausen told police she believed she’d been given a date rape drug.
“Paffhausen acknowledged that she voluntarily consumed a small quantity of alcohol the night she was arrested,” according to court documents. “She contended, however, that someone had drugged her without her knowledge, thus she should not be held responsible for anything that happened to her at the hands of a third party.”
After lower courts ruled against her, she appealed to the Montana Supreme Court.
“During the course of the proceedings, the defense also learned that several other recent cases of alleged use of the ‘date rape’ drug GHB had occurred in the Missoula area,” according to her brief to the state Supreme Court, submitted by Missoula attorney William E. McCarthy.
McCarthy also questioned the state’s handling of cases involving DUI and date rape drugs.
“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?” he wrote in the court brief.
Assistant Attorney General Matthew Cochenour said Paffhausen will have to prove she has admissible evidence to support her defense.
“The evidentiary questions will have to be sorted out,” he said Friday.
He said that if Paffhausen wins, it could lead to more of what he called the “somebody put something in my drink” defense.