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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. What a fine article, thank you! I can testify firsthand and by detailed legal reports (at end of this note) as to the dire consequences of rejecting this truth from the fine article above: "The inclusion and expansion of this right [to jury] in Indiana’s Constitution is a clear reflection of our state’s intention to emphasize the importance of every Hoosier’s right to make their case in front of a jury of their peers." Over $20? Every Hoosier? Well then how about when your very vocation is on the line? How about instead of a jury of peers, one faces a bevy of political appointees, mini-czars, who care less about due process of the law than the real czars did? Instead of trial by jury, trial by ideological ordeal run by Orwellian agents? Well that is built into more than a few administrative law committees of the Ind S.Ct., and it is now being weaponized, as is revealed in articles posted at this ezine, to root out post moderns heresies like refusal to stand and pledge allegiance to all things politically correct. My career was burned at the stake for not so saluting, but I think I was just one of the early logs. Due, at least in part, to the removal of the jury from bar admission and bar discipline cases, many more fires will soon be lit. Perhaps one awaits you, dear heretic? Oh, at that Ind. article 12 plank about a remedy at law for every damage done ... ah, well, the founders evidently meant only for those damages done not by the government itself, rabid statists that they were. (Yes, that was sarcasm.) My written reports available here: Denied petition for cert (this time around): http://tinyurl.com/zdmawmw Denied petition for cert (from the 2009 denial and five year banishment): http://tinyurl.com/zcypybh Related, not written by me: Amicus brief: http://tinyurl.com/hvh7qgp

  2. Justice has finally been served. So glad that Dr. Ley can finally sleep peacefully at night knowing the truth has finally come to the surface.

  3. While this right is guaranteed by our Constitution, it has in recent years been hampered by insurance companies, i.e.; the practice of the plaintiff's own insurance company intervening in an action and filing a lien against any proceeds paid to their insured. In essence, causing an additional financial hurdle for a plaintiff to overcome at trial in terms of overall award. In a very real sense an injured party in exercise of their right to trial by jury may be the only party in a cause that would end up with zero compensation.

  4. Why in the world would someone need a person to correct a transcript when a realtime court reporter could provide them with a transcript (rough draft) immediately?

  5. This article proved very enlightening. Right ahead of sitting the LSAT for the first time, I felt a sense of relief that a score of 141 was admitted to an Indiana Law School and did well under unique circumstances. While my GPA is currently 3.91 I fear standardized testing and hope that I too will get a good enough grade for acceptance here at home. Thanks so much for this informative post.

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