HELENA - The Montana Supreme Court has reversed the drunken driving conviction of a woman who says she was only driving in order to run from a dangerous bar fight.

The Montana Supreme Court cited a statute that lets people break the law if they are in danger, and agreed a lower court should have let the drunken driver make the argument in front of a jury.

Lisa Marie Leprowse had argued that she was only running from the fight when she got behind the wheel of her car after a night of drinking in Turah at the Other Place.

Police were originally called that night by another woman who had been fighting with Leprowse - and who complained that Leprowse had pulled a gun on her. The other woman told officers that they could catch Leprowse driving down Interstate 90 on her way to a trailer park.

Leprowse was caught, acknowledged to drinking that night, and arrested.

At trial, she told the Missoula District Court judge that she intended to make her argument that she was compelled to drive in order to flee the fight.

The state countered that Leprowse did not have to drive 14 miles to run away from the April 2008 bar fight, and pointed out she could have simply called 911 and waited in her car. The Missoula District Court agreed - and didn't let Leprowse make her argument to a jury.

But the Supreme Court said in its decision Thursday that Leprowse should have been able to state her case to a jury. The Supreme Court cited a statute that says it is OK to break the law if it is needed to avoid death or serious harm.

"The affirmative defense of compulsion is a well-recognized basis for finding a person not guilty of a charged offense, even though her conduct appears to fall within the definition of that offense," Justice Patricia Cotter wrote for an unanimous court.

Cotter said that Leprowse should have been able to present evidence, which included photos of injuries from an assault.

"Whether Leprowse was actually compelled to drive the distance of 14 miles, and ostensibly commit a DUI, is at its essence a question of fact based on circumstances," the high court opinion said.

The Supreme Court said that Leprowse should be allowed to present her evidence to a jury in a new trial.

 

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