OWI conviction upheld for driver snoozing in parked, running car

A man asleep behind the wheel of a parked but running car after a night of drinking couldn’t convince the Indiana Court of Appeals that there was insufficient evidence to prove he had been operating the vehicle.

Corey Winters was awoken by a police officer who found him asleep behind the wheel of a running vehicle, parked halfway in a driveway and halfway in a lane of traffic. Winters’ breath smelled of alcohol and his eyes were glassy and red, the officer observed. The man’s speech also was slurred.

When Winters failed a field sobriety test, he was read his Miranda rights and subsequently admitted he had been drinking that night. Empty alcohol containers were found in the vehicle and Winters again failed three more tests. A chemical blood test administered at a hospital several hours later found Winters’ “whole blood ethyl alcohol concentration” over the legal limit, in the range of 0.107% to 0.128%.

Winters was charged with operating a vehicle while intoxicated endangering a person, a Class A misdemeanor and operating a vehicle with an alcohol concentration equivalent of .08% or more, a Class C misdemeanor. He was convicted in Marion Superior Court of the Class C misdemeanor but argued on appeal that there was insufficient evidence to support his conviction.

Specifically, Winters argued he had testified to leaving the bar at 1:30 a.m., pulled over and parked shortly thereafter. Officers didn’t find him until 5:15 a.m., Winters argued, and he didn’t receive a chemical test until 7:11 a.m. Thus, Winters alleged the state could not rely on the statutory presumption in Indiana Code Section 9-30-6-15 and that it was required to prove he had operated a vehicle at some point after 4:11 a.m. The state contested Winters technically was “operating” his vehicle at the time they found him as defined by law.

“If Winters was ‘operating’ the vehicle, then the State could rely on the three-hour presumption in the statute; if Winters was not operating the vehicle, then the State could not rely on the presumption in the statute because the operation did not occur within three hours of the blood test,” Judge Elizabeth Tavitas wrote.

Noting the fact sensitivity of such cases, the appellate court found the trial court could have reasonably concluded that Winters was operating his vehicle when officers found him alone in the driver seat of a running vehicle, halfway in the road obstructing traffic and halfway in a driveway.

“Accordingly, because the State demonstrated that Winters operated his vehicle at 5:15 a.m., the 7:11 a.m. chemical test was timely conducted within the three-hour time period after the officer had probable cause to believe Winters committed an offense,” the appellate panel concluded. “The State was, therefore, able to rely on the statutory presumption regarding Winters’ blood test results.”

Sufficient evidence was thus found to support Winters’ convictions in Corey Lamar Winters v. State of Indiana,19A-CR-00431.

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