In a recent case coming out of a Virginia court, the defendant unsuccessfully appealed his convictions of drug possession and driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. One of the defendant’s main arguments on appeal was that the evidence failed to support a showing that he was guilty of driving while under the influence; given this lack of evidence, said the defendant, the conviction should be overturned. The court examined the evidence and ultimately disagreed with the defendant, affirming his convictions.
Facts of the Case
According to the opinion, a patrolling officer was dispatched to a service road one evening to check on a man who was reported to be asleep in his car in the middle of the road. When the officer arrived, he found the defendant sleeping in the driver’s seat. The officer approached the defendant, at which point the defendant took his foot off the brake pedal and unintentionally shifted the car forward.
The officer began asking the defendant questions, and he immediately noticed that the defendant appeared to be under the influence of some kind of substance. The defendant was fidgety, antsy, and speaking quickly. He could not remember his birthday, and he claimed that he had a knife on his person. The officers arrested the defendant and immediately found methamphetamine in plain view next to the driver’s seat. There was also an open container of liquor sitting on the center console.
The trial court convicted the defendant of possessing a controlled substance, driving with a suspended license, driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and drinking while driving. On appeal, the defendant argued that there was insufficient evidence to support his convictions. The officer had not administered any field sobriety tests, nor had he conducted breath or blood tests after the arrest. The Commonwealth could not prove that the defendant was acting in a way that proved he was under the influence. Thus, said the defendant, the convictions for drug possession and driving while under the influence should be reversed.
The court considered the defendant’s argument but cited Virginia law in its opinion stating that convictions of this type do not require chemical testing nor definitive proof of a specific blood-alcohol level. Accordingly, it was fair for the officers and the trial court to rely on the defendant’s behavior when assessing whether or not he had in fact consumed any substance that made it illegal for him to be driving.
The court pointed to the defendant’s appearance and lack of coordination as evidence to support the charges and convictions. Specifically, the combination of the rapid eye movements and the methamphetamine and liquor in the car provided ample opportunity for the officer to suspect that something was awry. The trial court was also justified in its reliance on this evidence.
Disagreeing with the defendant, the court denied the appeal and affirmed the original sentences.
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