PEOPLE V. SOLMONSON

CASE SUMMARY

People v. Solmonson, 683 N.W.2d 761 (Mich. Ct. App. 2004).

Defendant failed a sobriety test after he was found unconscious behind the wheel of a parked car. A jury found the defendant guilty of operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated among other offenses. At trial the government argued that the defendant operated the vehicle to the location where he was found. The defendant counter argued that someone drove him to that location.

Held: The defendants conviction was affirmed because the government presented evidence beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant operated the motor vehicle while intoxicated.

Table of Contents

TRANSCRIPT OF AUDIO

FACTS

The testimony at trial established that the police found Solmonson, the defendant, unconscious in the driver’s seat of a Chevrolet Cavalier station wagon. He had an open can of beer between his legs at 3:45 a.m. The car was parked just outside the white fog lines but was still on the road pavement. And although the engine was off, the keys were in the ignition and the engine was still warm. Defendant was alone but there were five full cans of cold beer on the passenger seat and one empty can in the back. The police found no one else in the area.

When two deputy sheriffs woke defendant and identified themselves, he replied, “You guys are f–––ing ass holes.” The deputies testified that the defendant tried to turn the ignition key but one of the deputies prevented him from doing so. 

After the defendant failed sobriety tests he told the deputies that, “This is bullshit,” and to just take him to “f–––ing jail.” He also told the deputies that he was coming from a neighboring county, where he had been working, that he had started drinking at 6:00 p.m. that night, and that he had consumed six beers. Both deputies testified without objection that the defendant never denied being the driver of the Cavalier.

The defendant’s blood test revealed 0.21 and 0.22 grams per one hundred milliliters of blood.

Defense counsel acknowledged that defendant was drunk and belligerent, and that defendant’s driver’s license was revoked, but he also claimed defendant was not operating the vehicle. Defense counsel theorized that someone else had driven defendant to where the police found him but he presented no evidence to support this theory. Defendant did not testify.

A jury found the defendant guilty of operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated among other offenses.

The defendant appealed his conviction

ISSUES

Whether the state presented evidence beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant had driven himself to the location where he had been found unconscious by the officers.

RULE

Circumstantial evidence and reasonable inference thereof must be reviewed in a light most favorable to the prosecution to determine whether a rational trier of fact could have found all the elements of the offense proved beyond a reasonable doubt. The prosecution need not negate every reasonable theory consistent with the defendant’s innocence, but need merely introduce evidence sufficient to convince a reasonable jury in the face of whatever contradictory evidence the defendant may provide.

APPLICATION / ANALYSIS

Here, the government argued that the evidence at trial presented a compelling circumstantial case that defendant had driven while intoxicated to the location where the police found him.

And although the defense counsel argued that someone else drove defendant to where the police found him, he presented no evidence at trial to support that theory. Moreover, the prosecution need not disprove all theories consistent with defendant’s innocence; it need only introduce sufficient evidence to convince a reasonable jury of its theory of guilt despite the contradictory theory or evidence a defendant may offer. Also, the trial court specifically instructed the jury regarding the element of “operating” that a person “sleeping in a motionless car … cannot be held to be presently operating a vehicle.” Thus, because jurors are presumed to follow the trial court’s instructions, the jury must have concluded from the circumstantial evidence and reasonable inferences that the prosecutor met his burden of proving defendant was operating the vehicle in an intoxicated state before the police arrived. Because this Court must draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the jury verdict, defendant’s conviction must be affirmed.

CONCLUSION

The defendant’s conviction was affirmed because the government presented evidence beyond a reasonable doubt the the defendant operated his vehicle while intoxicated before he was found by the officers.

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