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Judges split on endangerment issue

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The Indiana Court of Appeals found the state proved a defendant had driven drunk, but the judges disagreed as to whether the state showed the man had endangered others with his driving.

In James Dorsett v. State of Indiana, No. 82A01-0906-CR-292, James Dorsett appealed his conviction of operating a vehicle while intoxicated as a Class A misdemeanor, which requires showing that his operation of his car endangered a person. A Vanderburgh County Sheriff sergeant spotted Dorsett in his car, which was parked and running in the middle of a parking lot early in the morning. Dorsett was slumped over in the car and took more than 30 seconds to wake up after the sergeant got to the car. He told the officer he was at a friend's party, on his way home, and had stopped at a McDonald's for food. Dorsett appeared intoxicated and tests showed his blood alcohol content at 0.12 percent.

Dorsett was convicted of operating a vehicle while intoxicated as Class A and Class C misdemeanors. His convictions were merged and he was sentenced only on the Class A misdemeanor.

Even though the sergeant didn't see Dorsett driving his car, the state presented enough circumstantial evidence to show Dorsett had driven. The sergeant testified Dorsett told him he had drank at a friend's house and then drove to McDonald's. Based on the time he went to McDonald's, only the drive-thru window would have been open. It could be reasonably inferred that Dorsett drove to McDonald's and then parked his car in the nearby parking lot, the appellate judges concluded. This was sufficient to only support his Class C misdemeanor conviction, so the majority reversed the Class A misdemeanor conviction and remanded for judgment and sentence to be entered on the Class C misdemeanor conviction.

Judge Cale Bradford dissented on the reversal of the Class A misdemeanor conviction, believing the state proved endangerment by presenting evidence Dorsett was much more than minimally intoxicated and his driving created a risk.

"In my view, a fact-finder should be free to conclude, based on a high level of intoxication alone, that a driver endangered himself or others when he operated a vehicle, even if no direct evidence of dangerous operation was presented," he wrote.

Based on the evidence and testimony of the sergeant, one could conclude Dorsett was so drunk he wasn't capable of driving his car into a parking space or turning the engine off before passing out. Clearly anyone operating a vehicle in that condition poses a serious threat to public safety, wrote Judge Bradford.

Judge Edward Najam wrote in a footnote for the majority that Judge Bradford commingled the Class A misdemeanor charge with the Class C charge, stating that "intoxication alone" is sufficient to support a Class A misdemeanor conviction as long as the intoxication is "more than minimal."

"But the statute as recently amended does not recognize degrees of intoxication and clearly requires more than intoxication to establish endangerment," wrote Judge Najam.

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  1. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

  2. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

  3. Can we get full disclosure on lobbyist's payments to legislatures such as Mr Buck? AS long as there are idiots that are disrespectful of neighbors and intent on shooting fireworks every night, some kind of regulations are needed.

  4. I am the mother of the child in this case. My silence on the matter was due to the fact that I filed, both in Illinois and Indiana, child support cases. I even filed supporting documentation with the Indiana family law court. Not sure whether this information was provided to the court of appeals or not. Wish the case was done before moving to Indiana, because no matter what, there is NO WAY the state of Illinois would have allowed an appeal on a child support case!

  5. "No one is safe when the Legislature is in session."

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