MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The Minnesota Supreme Court on Wednesday reversed the impaired driving convictions of a woman who was found slumped over in her car on three occasions after allegedly inhaling from a can of dust remover.
The chemical in the can — 1,1-Difluoroethane, or DFE — was found in the woman's system, and she was convicted of three counts of operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of a hazardous substance. But the Supreme Court overturned her convictions because DFE is not listed as a hazardous substance under Minnesota's driving-while-impaired statute.
"We acknowledge that based on our holding today, a driver dangerously intoxicated by DFE is not criminally liable under the plain language of the current DWI statutes," Justice Natalie Hudson wrote for the majority. She said it's up to the Legislature to refine the law.
DFE is found in refrigerated-based propellant cans, commonly sold under the brand name Dust-Off, that are used to clean computer keyboards and electronics. Each time the woman, Chantel Lynn Carson, was found in her car — slumped over, passed out, slurring and with bloodshot eyes — she had one or more of those cans with her.
In arguing that her convictions should be upheld, the state said that while Minnesota's occupational safety and health rule on hazardous substances does not specifically list DFE, the rule also says it "does not include all hazardous substances and will not always be current."
The rule also includes a list of "characteristics" that would make a substance hazardous. The state argued that DFE has many of those characteristics and falls into that category.
But the Supreme Court disagreed, saying the statute plainly says that the types of hazardous substances that can lead to a driving-while-impaired conviction are limited to those specifically listed.
Justice Anne McKeig dissented, saying DFE has the characteristics of a hazardous substance even though it's not mentioned by name.
"Under the court's interpretation of the statute, Minnesotans may inhale Dust-Off and then drive at their pleasure while endangering their fellow citizens," she wrote. "This impunity cannot be what the Legislature intended."
Carson's attorney, Lydia Villalva Lijo, said in a statement that the decision was great news for her client.
"She continues to work hard every day to contribute in positive ways to her community and to keep her life on track," she said. "It has been a hard road and we should encourage her progress."