Criminal Law, Pages 7–11

Owens v. State

Court of Special Appeals of Maryland, 1992

Facts:

After a caller reported a suspicious vehicle, the description of which matched defendant's, an officer arrived and found defendant passed out drunk in the running vehicle in his friend's driveway. Defendant had two empty beer cans and one partial can in the vehicle with him.

Procedural History:

Defendant was convicted of driving under the influence.

Rule:

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"[A] conviction upon circumstantial evidence alone is not to be sustained unless the circumstances are inconsistent with any reasonable hypothesis of innocence."

Issue:

Is there a reasonable hypothesis of defendant's innocence?

Defendant's Argument:

It is equally possible that defendant had just arrived and left his vehicle running as it was that he was preparing to leave and passed out before he could. If the later was the case, defendant would not have committed any crime. As there is yet a reasonable hypothesis of innocence, this circumstantial evidence is not sufficient to sustain a conviction.

Reasoning:

Defendant is correct that the mere fact that he was found drunk in a running vehicle in a driveway is not enough to convict him, as there are two hypotheses about what happened before. However, there are other facts than these that—although also circumstantial—can eliminate one hypothesis.

Defendant was in a friend's driveway and admitted to dropping him off there, however neither of these facts are in evidence and thus must be ignored. He also had two empty and one partial beer cans with him in the vehicle, while he was passed out from drinking so much. One usually does not go out to his vehicle, start it, drink 2½ cans of beer, and pass out without going anywhere or even having the radio on. This helps support the hypothesis that he had drunk these before he arrived at the location. A caller also reported a suspicious vehicle, which one would not usually do to a neighbor who was just sitting in his driveway without going anywhere. These two facts are inconsistent with a reasonable hypothesis that defendant was just innocently sitting in his driveway without driving on the road. It makes defendant's conviction rational and proper.

Holding:

No, the circumstances are inconsistent with a reasonable hypothesis of innocence. Affirmed.

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