State v. Pinder

State v. Pinder, 2015 MT 157 (June 9, 2015) (Wheat, J.) (5-0, aff’d)

Issue: Whether 1,1-Difluorethane (DFE) is a drug such that driving under its influence is DUI.

Short Answer: Yes.


Facts: Taylor Pinder crashed a truck into a lamppost outside a motel in Butte. When police arrived, Pinder was exiting a bathroom in the motel dining room. He appeared intoxicated and was having difficulty standing, walking, speaking, or follow verbal commands. The officers called for an ambulance to take him to the hospital. Shortly, after, a motel employee have the officers a can of aerosol dust remover discovered in the bathroom Pinder had exited. The officers knew dust remover can be used as an inhalant.

At the hospital, Pinder was arrested for DUI. He consented to a blood draw, and the toxicology report showed his blood contained 6.2 mcg/ml of DFE, a chemical found in dust remover. Because Pinder had three prior DUI convictions, he was charged with felony DUI and misdemeanor reckless driving. He pled not guilty to both counts.

In September 2013, Pinder moved to dismiss the DUI charge. At the hearing, Pinder argued DFE does not fit within the statutory definition of “drug,” and the DUI charge should be dismissed. The court denied Pinder’s motion.

Procedural Posture & Holding: Pinder entered into a plea agreement and the court accepted his guilty plea on Nov. 15, 2013. Pinder reserved his right to appeal the denial of his motion to dismiss. The Supreme Court affirms.

Reasoning: The court acknowledges its disparate approaches to prefatory phrases in statutory definitions, such as “for the purposes of this section,” or “as used in this Title.” In one line of cases, the Court takes an exclusionary approach, such as refusing to apply the definition of “farm” in the Montana Probate Code to the eminent domain sections. Under this line of cases, application phrases preclude application of the definition to other code phrases.

In the inclusionary approach, limitation clauses do not preclude use of the definition to other sections where appropriate.

Here, the legislature did not intend the pharmacy definition of “drug” to apply to the DUI statute. Words and phrases used in the statutes must be construed according to context. “We do not think the legislature intended to limit the scope of the DUI statute by applying it only to drivers who may have diminished their driving ability by ingesting a substance regulated by pharmacists.” ¶ 19. The district court’s definition of “drug” is consistent with the legislature’s objectives in enacting the DUI statutes.