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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. OK, now do something about this preverted anacronism

  2. William Hartley prosecutor of Wabash county constantly violates people rights. Withholds statement's, is bias towards certain people. His actions have ruined lives and families. In this county you question him or go out of town for a lawyer,he finds a way to make things worse for you. Unfair,biased and crooked.

  3. why is the State trying to play GOD? Automatic sealing of a record is immoral. People should have the right to decide how to handle a record. the state is playing GOD. I have searched for decades, then you want me to pay someone a huge price to contact my son. THIS is extortion and gestapo control. OPEN THE RECORDS NOW. OPEN THE RECORDS NOW. OPEN THE RECORDS NOW.

  4. I haven't made some of the best choices in the last two years I have been to marion county jail 1 and two on three different occasions each time of release dates I've spent 48 to 72 hours after date of release losing a job being denied my freedom after ordered please help

  5. Out here in Kansas, where I now work as a government attorney, we are nearing the end of a process that could have relevance in this matter: "Senate Bill 45 would allow any adult otherwise able to possess a handgun under state and federal laws to carry that gun concealed as a matter of course without a permit. This move, commonly called constitutional carry, would elevate the state to the same club that Vermont, Arizona, Alaska and Wyoming have joined in the past generation." More reading here: http://www.guns.com/2015/03/18/kansas-house-panel-goes-all-in-on-constitutional-carry-measure/ Time to man up, Hoosiers. (And I do not mean that in a sexist way.)

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