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Law School Case Brief

State v. Knowles - 46 Wash. App. 426, 730 P.2d 738 (1986)


In a criminal case, the test for determining the sufficiency of the evidence is whether, after reviewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution, any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. Any challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence admits the truth of the prosecution's evidence and all inferences that reasonably can be drawn therefrom.


Defendant Ronald D. Knowles was charged with vehicular homicide. At trial in Washington state court, the evidence tended to establish that, prior to driving home from a party, defendant smoked marijuana and drank beer. Thereafter, his car crossed a double yellow line near a blind curve and struck an on-coming vehicle in which a passenger was killed. The trial court found defendant guilty as charged. The State asked the trial court to count defendant's previous driving while intoxicated conviction (DWI) as an adult serious traffic conviction. The court rejected the State's request and imposed a 15 to 20 month sentence. Both parties appealed. Defendant contended that there was insufficient evidence that his intoxication proximately caused the decedent's death. The State, on the other hand, argued that, under the sentencing guidelines of the Sentencing Reform Act of 1981 ("Act"), defendant's conviction at age 17 of driving while intoxicated should have been computed in his offender score as an adult conviction, rather than as a juvenile conviction. 


Were defendant's conviction and sentence proper?




The appellate court affirmed both the trial court's judgment and the sentence imposed on defendant. The court held that the trial court found the requisite proximate causation. Defendant's impairment and his erratic driving led to the conclusion that the effect of alcohol and drugs on defendant's driving ability, together with his disregard for others' safety, set in motion a chain of events, unbroken by any intervening superseding event, which caused the decedent's death. Further, because the Legislature failed to explicitly define "juvenile conviction" in the Act, the appellate court was required to favor the interpretation that most favored defendants. The court concluded that defining convictions by the offender's age at the time of conviction was most favorable to a juvenile convicted in an adult court. Thus, the trial court properly scored defendant's DWI conviction.

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