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Should State be Required to Prove Actual Endangerment in OWI Cases?
Posted in Litigation

On Monday, the Indiana Court of Appeals upheld a conviction in Staten v. State for a class A misdemeanor of operating a vehicle while intoxicated in a manner that endangers another. Staten was driving on an access road when he failed to stop at a three-way stop sign. No one was on the road or nearby other than the officer. When the officer pulled him over, Staten smelled of alcohol and said he had been drinking. Staten exited the vehicle and submitted to field sobriety tests, which he failed. It was later determined that he had a BAC of 0.15.

Staten admitted he was intoxicated but challenged his conviction by saying that he did not actually endanger anyone. The Court of Appeals relied on well-established law and reaffirmed  that the State is not required to prove actual endangerment. Rather, it is sufficient to prove that a defendant operated a vehicle in a manner that could endanger a person.

Interestingly, Judge Crone dissented in part to say that the State should be required to prove that a defendant’s driving actually endangered another. According to Crone, Indiana Code 9-30-5-2(b) “requires more than intoxication to prove endangerment.” Courts are to strictly construe penal statutes against the State, and this statute does not say that a defendant need only operate his vehicle in a way that could potentially endanger another. Rather, it says that one must operate in a manner that endangers. Therefore, anything less than proof of actual endangerment is insufficient.

While Staten v. State does not change the state of the law regarding OWIs, its dissent suggests some possibility of a future change in the State’s burden of proof should Judge Crone’s views become more widely accepted. Such a change would be dramatic and would result in a significant reduction in the number of OWI convictions.

If you have questions, please contact the Litigation Practice Group at Bingham Greenebaum Doll.

To learn more about Meaghan Klem Haller and her practice, visit her profile.

  • Partner

    Meaghan describes herself as an “unapologetic advocate” who will be upfront and honest with clients and thoroughly prepared on the law and facts of her cases.  She focuses her practice on corporate governance disputes, breaches ...

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