Thank You For Submiting Feedback!
Under La. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 14:98 the State must prove that a defendant charged with operating a vehicle while intoxicated did operate his vehicle.
Police officers who responded to a complaint of an accident in a lounge parking lot found defendant Louis R. Rutan sleeping in the driver's seat of his car. The engine and headlights were off. That, in the parking lot, there was a damaged car but defendant's car was not damaged. After defendant was awakened, testing showed that his blood alcohol level was .21 percent. The defendant was charged of careless and reckless operation of a vehicle which was a violation of LSA-R.S. 14:99, driving while intoxicated which was a violation of LSA-R.S. 14:98, and operating a vehicle while his license was suspended which was a violation of LSA-R.S. 32:415. These charges were consolidated for trial. After bench trial, his motion for an acquittal was denied. The court found that there was sufficient circumstantial evidence to convict him of violating La. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 14:98 by driving while intoxicated and of violating La. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 32:415 by driving under suspension.
Did the trial court err in holding that there was sufficient circumstantial evidence to convict defendant on the crime charged?
The court reversed the convictions and held that the circumstantial evidence failed to exclude every reasonable hypothesis of innocence as required by La. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 15:438. The court ruled that the evidence did not show how long defendant had been in the parking lot, whether he had driven the automobile on the highway to the lounge, or, if he did so, that he was intoxicated when he drove from the highway to the parking lot. The Court added that although the State proved that defendant was intoxicated, no evidence proved that he operated his vehicle, which was an essential element of the crimes of driving while intoxicated and driving under suspension. Therefore, the court reversed defendant's convictions and sentences for driving while intoxicated and operating a motor vehicle while his license was suspended. The court rendered judgment ordering defendant to be discharged.