“The appellate court applied an important question of state law in a way that conflicts with the applicable decisions of the court of criminal appeals when it mistakenly merged the corpus delicti standard of review with the Jackson v. Virginia sufficiency of the evidence standard of review–misapplying both. ”
Police responded to a 911 call that a gray van had been driven recklessly, exited the highway, and was parked near gas pumps. Harrell was in the driver’s seat with his seatbelt on when the officer arrived. Harrell smelled of alcohol and admitted to drinking and driving. The two passengers were also intoxicated. Harrell was arrested and convicted of driving while intoxicated.
The court of appeals reversed. It purported to apply the corpus delicti rule, which requires evidence that a crime was committed independent of an extrajudicial confession. Based on cases defining “operating”–an element of DWI–the court concluded that the corpus delicti of DWI includes showing the defendant took action to affect the functioning of his vehicle in a manner that would enable its use. Because the van was not running when the officer approached, there were other people in the van (one of whom perhaps owned it), and no one saw Harrell driving, the court concluded the evidence was legally insufficient to convict him.
The State argues the court of appeals missed the point of both corpus delicti and sufficiency review by blending them. The corpus delicti of DWI is that someone was driving while intoxicated–not necessarily the defendant. The 911 caller’s observations combined with the fact that all three occupants were intoxicated proved that a DWI happened. Once it was proven that a DWI occurred, even an uncorroborated confession would have been enough to prove identity for sufficiency purposes.