Police found Julian Kuciemba behind the steering wheel, injured and intoxicated after a one-car rollover accident. The deputy who arrived on the scene found Kuciemba's truck in a ditch with its roof partially crushed. Kuciemba had cuts on his forehead with blood running down his face. He smelled of alcohol and was unsteady on his feet. His eyes were glassy and bloodshot, he had difficulty standing, and his speech was slurred. He claimed he had fallen asleep. No skid marks were found on the roadway indicating Kuciemba did not brake before the rollover. His blood alcohol level was over twice the legal limit.
The court of appeals reversed, holding that the evidence was legally insufficient to show that Kuciemba was intoxicated at the time he was driving. The time of the accident wasn't established, and the State did not put on any evidence of Kuciemba's driving before the accident or to establish how soon afterwards the deputy arrived on the scene. According to the court of appeals, the evidence supported a finding that Kuciemba was intoxicated at the accident scene not that he was intoxicated while driving. [Here's a link to the court of appeals case information if you are interested.]
The CCA reversed, holding that the evidence circumstantially established that Kuciemba had been driving while intoxicated. Presiding Judge Keller, joined by everyone except Judge Meyers, explained that being intoxicated at the scene of a traffic accident where the actor was a driver is some evidence that intoxication caused the accident, and the inference is stronger when it's a one-car collision with an inanimate object. Additionally, the fresh cuts, Kuciemba's presence behind the wheel, his total failure to break, and his high blood-alcohol content supported the inference that Kuciemba was recently involved in the accident or that he had been intoxicated for quite awhile. And oh yeah, The Supreme Court of Nebraska would've reached the same holding, so there. [Here's a link to the CCA case information if you are interested.]
Judge Meyers dissented because he agreed with the court of appeals that there was neither direct or circumstantial evidence to establish the necessary temporal link between Kuciemba's driving and his intoxication. All the evidence showed Judge Meyers was that Kuciemba did not operate his car in a safe manner and that he was intoxicated at the accident scene.
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Perhaps you've heard the advice that people dispense at bars about what to do when you're in a DWI accident. You know, they say if you get in an accident you should immediately chug some liquor. Well, this opinion is the opinion affirming your conviction you will likely get should you engage in such foolish behavior. I wonder if Meyers is still, perhaps on a subconscious level, looking at this from an exclusion of every reasonable hypothesis standard of review. Is he thinking this case is one where the defendant really wasn't drunk until after the accident when he decided to chug some liquor (that was never found) out of remorse? Or was there a phantom driver who pulled the defendant into the driver's seat out of his own sense of guilt before fleeing the scene in his drunken state? Look, all of the facts in this case raise the inference that the defendant was driving while intoxicated. Of course, you could also come up with other hypothetical situations like the ones I mentioned above. Under the old standard Judge Meyers could be forgiven for allowing such possibilities enter his mental calculus. But now it's up to the jury to decide on competing theories of the case, and if they determine that the former scenario is more likely than the later hypothesis, then that's their call. Under the new standard, Judge Meyers is just wrong. Of course, he didn't have to rely upon a case from Nebraska to make his point, so maybe I'm the one who's messed up.
P.S.-Nothing on this blog should be construed as any type of advice.