Missouri DWI Defense Tactic: State Must Prove Temporal Connection Between Time Car Was Driven And Intoxication

Have you ever been too drunk to drive and you realized it while you were driving and you wondered what should I do? You should pull over immediately and turn off the car, take the keys out of the ignition, and get out of the car as soon as possible. See St. Louis Criminal Law Blog Article: “What Constitutes “Operating a Motor Vehicle” under Missouri DWI Law?” This is your best chance of avoiding a DWI if a police officer comes upon you. The Missouri Court of Appeals in the Western District ruled in State v Hatfield, that the State must establish the temporal connection between the defendant’s last operation of a motor vehicle and his observed illegal intoxication. Basically, just because you are standing next on the side of the road and you drove does not necessarily mean that you are guilty of DWI. The State must show that you were intoxicated at the time of vehicle operation.

Specifically in the drunk driving related case of State v. Hatfield, the Cass County Sheriff’s Department was dispatched to an accident and the Deputy found Billy Hatfield standing next to a car that was involved in an motor vehicle accident. The car had damage to the front end, there were ruts in a ditch next to the vehicle, and a damaged fence nearby. Billy Hatfield told the officer that “I lost it making the turn.” The Deputy reported that he smelled a strong odor of alcohol on his breath, he had slurred speech and was having trouble with his balance. The Deputy placed Billy Hatfield under arrest for DWI and driving on a revoked license. Hatfield refused to take the field sobriety tests and refused to provide a breath sample. Billy Hatfield took his case to trial and was convicted of DWI. The sole witness at trial was the deputy. Billy Hatfield appealed his conviction on the basis that the evidence was insufficient to convict him of DWI because the State failed to establish that he was under the influence of alcohol at the time he was operating a motor vehicle.

To convict a person of DWI in the state of Missouri the state must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the Defendant was (1) driving (2) while (3) intoxicated. See Missouri Revised Statute 577.010. Billy Hatfield did not dispute that he was driving or that he was intoxicated. He disputed that he was doing both of them at the same time. The state argued on appeal that there was circumstantial evidence to infer that Billy Hatfield was impaired while driving. They referred to his admission to driving and his personal appearance of slurred speech, glassy watery eyes, slight sway, odor of alcohol and a little stumbling while he walked. The Court did not believe that the State had met their burden in this case. The court stated that Hatfield’s mere intoxication near his vehicle, without evidence establishing when he last operated it, is insufficient to support his conviction for DWI. The Court relied on previous cases to make it clear that the State must present evidence linking in time the defendant’s intoxication to the operation of a motor vehicle. Specifically in State v. Davis, 217 S.W.3d 358, 361 (Mo. App. W.D. 2007) Where intoxication is observed at a time separate from the operation of a motor vehicle, a fact-finder cannot determine that one who is under the influence of an alcoholic beverage at an established time was necessarily in that condition at some earlier unspecified moment without any evidence concerning the length of the interval involved.

For an in depth discussion see State v. Byron, 222 S.W.3d, 341 (Mo.App.W.D.2007) State v. Liebhart, 707 S.W.2d 427, 429 (Mo. App.W.D. 1986)

The Court in this case made it clear that the State failed to establish that Billy Hatfield was intoxicated when he was driving. There was no evidence as to the approximate time that Hatfield was operating the vehicle or the time of the accident occurred or how much time had elapsed between the accident and the arrest. The Court even pointed out how poorly the police officer investigated the case. The Court finished their opinion with strong words for the state by stating “it is the obligation of the State to prove a criminal case beyond a reasonable doubt. It is not the function of the court to ignore its failure.” See State v. Wilson.

This is another case that on its surface looks like that Billy Hatfield should by guilty of DWI. Yet, with the proper defenses raised by an experienced drunk driving lawyer you can fight a DWI case and win. If you are looking for an experienced St. Louis DWI attorney contact us. We handle DWI cases throughout Missouri and routinely handle St Charles DWI, Jefferson County DWI, and St. Louis DUIs.