11/4/2011Oregon Appeals Court: Sleep Driving Does Not Excuse DUI
Second highest court in Oregon concludes drunk driving conviction does not require an intentional act.
An Oregon man attempted to escape conviction for driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI) by claiming he was "sleep driving" and not responsible for his actions. On Wednesday, a three-judge panel of the state Court of Appeals shut down the argument as utterly irrelevant. Even if what he said were true, driving while drunk and asleep would still be a crime.
James Robert Newman left his car at his apartment and walked to a restaurant to have dinner and drinks with friends. Those friends then offered Newman a ride home. Later that evening, a police officer saw Newman's car turn left without signaling, run a red light and drive down the middle of the street. When the officer turned on his overhead lights, Newman pulled over. He reeked of alcohol and failed the standard battery of field sobriety tests. He was taken to the station where he blew 0.15 on a breathalyzer.
"At trial, defendant admitted that he was intoxicated but sought to present evidence that he did not consciously drive or control his car," Presiding Judge Darleen Ortega wrote. "He testified that he was not aware of leaving his apartment, going to his car, starting the car, or driving it. According to defendant, after he went to sleep that evening, the next thing he was aware of was the police car lights flashing behind him."
Multnomah County Circuit Court Judge Kathleen M. Dailey was not interested in hearing this evidence as it was not relevant. Newman appealed, insisting he should have been allowed to present his case. For the sake of argument, the appellate judges considered whether it would make a difference were Newman's claims accepted as true. The judges looked to determine whether the legislature intended DUI to be a crime requiring one be aware of his actions, having a "culpable mental state." A general state statute, ORS 161.085, requires requires an intentional act for someone to be criminally liable, but the courts have interpreted this to allow the legislature to create exceptions.
The state supreme court considered the mental state issue in a 1990 case Oregon v. Miller. The justices found that in 70 years, no court ruling or legislative act had ever required the state to prove the driver was acting intentionally to convict for DUI.
"Defendant's arguments for reconsidering Miller are properly addressed to the Supreme Court, not to this court," Ortega wrote. "We agree with the trial court that DUII is a strict liability offense and that, therefore, the evidence concerning defendant's mental state is irrelevant. Affirmed."
A copy of the decision is available in a 30k PDF file at the source link below.