MISSOULA (AP) — A Missoula woman should be allowed to defend herself against a charge of driving under the influence by arguing someone put a date rape drug in her drink without her knowledge, the Montana Supreme Court has ruled.
The 4-3 decision filed last week returned Leigh Paffhausen's case to Municipal Court, saying she should have the chance to offer evidence that her January 2010 intoxication was involuntary, the Missoulian (http://bit.ly/V8eJZH ) reported.
Shortly after Paffhausen was charged, she told police she believed she had been given gamma-Hydroxybutyric acid, or GHB, and intended to use involuntary intoxication as a defense.
However, the District Court upheld a Missoula Municipal Court ruling that prevented Paffhausen from using that defense or calling witnesses to testify about the use of date rape drugs in the city.
She argues that the involuntary impairment from the drug prevented her from voluntarily driving or being in "actual physical control" of the vehicle — elements of the state's DUI law.
Assistant Attorney General Matthew Cochenour argued that "accepting Paffhausen's argument would lead to the 'absurd and paradoxical result' that 'the more intoxicated the driver became, the better his chances of avoiding liability under the statute.'"
Paffhausen acknowledged that she has no proof she was drugged. But she said that since the state has to prove she was in control of the vehicle, she should be able to offer rebuttal evidence that she was not acting voluntarily.
The majority agreed but noted that Paffhausen bears the burden of proving her defense while the state has the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that she was acting voluntarily.
"The evidentiary questions will have to be sorted out," Cochenour told the Missoulian on Friday.
Cochenour echoed the dissenting justices' concerns that if Paffhausen's defense succeeds, it could lead to a proliferation of the "somebody put something in my drink" defense.
The majority dismissed that concern, adding "a hearing is a small price to pay if seeking justice and not simply a conviction is the object of criminal prosecutions."