Good News for Drunks: Appeals Court Tosses DWI

drunk-drivers.jpg
Just because you drove, and are drunk, doesn't mean you're a drunk driver, the appellate court says.
​Here's a little test of deductive reasoning: Say you're a cop, and you're dispatched to an accident scene near a house. Once you arrive, you spot a car with a damaged front end, rut marks in a ditch near the car and a damaged fence. There's a man standing near the car, who slurringly admits that he lost control of the car on a turn. He also admits he's drunk.

So, can you assume the guy is guilty of driving while intoxicated?

Logic might say yes; the Missouri appeals court says no.

In its ruling on State of Missouri v. Billy Jack Hatfield, which originated in Cass County, the Missouri Court of Appeals Western District agreed today that there's enough evidence to establish two critical facts: that Hatfield drove the car, and that he was drunk at the time of his arrest. But there was not, the court ruled, enough evidence for a third, critical point: that Hatfield actually drove the car while he was drunk. And that's enough to reverse his conviction.


Prosecutors brought the case relying on just one witness: the cop. And that simply wasn't enough.

"Hatfield's mere intoxication near his vehicle, without evidence establishing when he last operated it, is insufficient to support his conviction for driving while intoxicated," the court concludes. "Missouri courts have made it clear that the State must present evidence linking in time the defendant's intoxication to the operation of a motor vehicle" -- e.g., when the accident happened compared to when Hatfield was boozing it up.

As the court notes, the officer on the scene failed to ask key questions or do basic detective work. He never interviewed the homeowner where the accident occurred to find out when the car skidded up. He never checked the hood to see if the car was still warm. He couldn't even answer the question of where he'd found the keys to the vehicle.

The prosecutors tried to argue that because Hatfield refused a Breathalyzer, his "consciousness of guilt" is established, but the appellate justices disagreed with that, too. A refusal to submit to a Breathalyzer "cannot establish beyond a reasonable doubt that he was driving while intoxicated."

Logic would certainly tell us that Billy Jack Hatfield was driving the car, and was drunk, at the time he crashed it -- and not just because the dude's name is Billy Jack. But the court's got a higher standard of proof than mere deductive reasoning.

Good news for drunks, indeed! As long as you get a lazy cop, you just might have a get-out-of-jail-free card.

That's certainly true for Billy Jack Hatfield. The court writes that, thanks to a prior DWI, and the fact that his license was suspended at the time of the crash, he had been sentenced to two concurrent four-year terms in prison. He's still stuck with the conviction for driving on a suspended license, but the DWI conviction and sentence are now reversed. We'll drink to that!


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4 comments
D Jones378
D Jones378

His name is really Billy Jack?  Awesome!

Your Momma
Your Momma

"Logic would certainly tell us that Billy Jack Hatfield was driving the car, and was drunk, at the time he crashed it "Nope, that's an assumption. Logic does not establish that. 

JJ
JJ

It's drunks like him that give the MADDers ammunition to try to lower the limit to ZERO. That's their true do-gooders goal. If you have 2 beers or 2 glasses of wine at dinner you're immediately at risk of killing someone and should be arrested for even smelling of booze notwithstanding that you've driven perfectly capably as anyone else for the last 20 miles or so. Time to stand up and say enough with the money generating folly for both the police and lawyers. Both benefit from the .085 "criminals that terrorize our streets" 

lossolidos
lossolidos

Amen!  It's really gotten quite ridiculous.  Something similar happened to my brother last year in Columbia which is notorious for DWI enforcement where an officer arrested him for operating when he wasn't even in his vehicle.  Nor was the vehicle even turned on!  They arrested him merely on suspicion that he would drive drunk nothing else.  Because of that and a good StL lawyer he was able to plead down to public intox. but he was not as lucky as Billy Jack.

Driving drunk is wrong.  But you have to be frickin driving!!

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