State v. Rich: Evidence of DUI Also Shows Reckless Driving

In State v. Rich, the WA Supreme Court ruled that although proof of DUI alone does not necessarily establish proof of Reckless Endangerment, here, proof that a driver whose breath alcohol level was more than twice the legal limit and who showed awareness that she had done something wrong once stopped, and who sped past a police car in traffic with a young child in the front seat, was sufficient to allow a reasonable juror to conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that the driver created a substantial risk of death or injury to her passenger; which meets the definition of Reckless Endangerment.

A jury convicted defendant Andrea Rich of driving under the influence (DUI) and Reckless Endangerment. The evidence showed that Rich was speeding in traffic while highly intoxicated and with a young child in the front passenger seat. But the officer who arrested Rich followed her car because he believed that the car was stolen. Rich’s manner of driving posed no observable danger.

The WA Court of Appeals reversed the Reckless Endangerment conviction, holding that the evidence was insufficient to establish that Rich’s driving created an actual, substantial risk of death or serious physical injury to another person. It reasoned that proof of a DUI does not necessarily establish proof of Reckless Endangerment.

In response, the State Prosecutor appealed to the WA Supreme Court on the issue of whether there was sufficient to support Rich’s Reckless Endangerment conviction.

The WA Supreme Court agreed with the Court of Appeals that proof of DUI alone does not necessarily establish proof of Reckless Endangerment. The WA Supreme Court also reasoned, however, that the State proved more than just DUI in this case:

It also proved speeding, past a police car, in traffic, by a driver whose breath alcohol level was more than twice the legal limit, who showed awareness that she had done something wrong once stopped, and who had a young child in the front passenger seat. Construing the evidence in the light most favorable to the State, a reasonable juror could conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that Rich created a substantial risk of death or injury to her passenger, that Rich knew of the substantial risk, and that Rich disregarded that risk in gross deviation from the way a reasonable person would act in her situation.

With that, the WA Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals and affirmed the Reckless Endangerment conviction.