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City of Missoula v. Leigh E. Paffhausen

November 20, 2012

CITY OF MISSOULA, PLAINTIFF AND APPELLEE,
v.
LEIGH E. PAFFHAUSEN, DEFENDANT AND APPELLANT.



APPEAL FROM: District Court of the Fourth Judicial District, In and For the County of Missoula, Cause No. DC-11-64 Honorable John W. Larson, Presiding Judge

The opinion of the court was delivered by: James C. Nelson

Argued and Submitted: April 26, 2012

Decided: November 20, 2012

Filed:

Clerk

Justice James C. Nelson delivered the Opinion of the Court.

¶1 Leigh Paffhausen appeals an opinion and order of the District Court for the Fourth Judicial District, Missoula County, affirming a Municipal Court order that excluded Paffhausen's involuntary intoxication defense. We reverse and remand for further proceedings consistent with this Opinion.

¶2 Paffhausen raises two issues on appeal which we have restated as follows:

¶3 1. Whether the lower court erred by failing to apply the voluntary act element of Montana's DUI statute.

¶4 2. Whether the lower court erred by excluding Missoula Police Officers from testifying as to their personal knowledge, opinions, and statements regarding whether Paffhausen was unknowingly drugged, and voluntarily drove a vehicle.

Factual and Procedural Background

¶5 In the early morning hours of January 18, 2010, Missoula City Police Officer Christian Cameron observed a black SUV driven by Paffhausen run through a stop sign. A few moments later, he saw Paffhausen prematurely slam on the brakes at another stop sign. When Officer Cameron stopped the SUV, he noticed that Paffhausen's speech was slow and slurred, and that her breath smelled of alcohol.

¶6 Officer Cameron attempted unsuccessfully to administer field sobriety tests to Paffhausen. In addition, Paffhausen refused to provide a breath sample. Officer Cameron arrested Paffhausen for driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI), failure to stop at a stop sign, and operating a motor vehicle without her driver's license in her possession.

¶7 Shortly after Paffhausen was charged with DUI, she notified the Missoula Police Department that she believed she had been given a "date rape" drug that caused her impairment. At the direction of the City Attorney, Sergeant Scott Pastian conducted an investigation and made statements to the defense regarding his findings.

¶8 At her initial appearance, the Municipal Court dismissed the charge of operating a motor vehicle without a driver's license. Paffhausen filed notice that she intended to assert involuntary intoxication and necessity as affirmative defenses. She also filed a witness list that included the Missoula police chief, the officer investigating her allegation that she had been given a "date rape" drug, a pharmacist, and a physician's assistant.

¶9 Before trial commenced, the City of Missoula (the City) filed a motion to prevent Paffhausen from using involuntary intoxication as a defense arguing that such a defense can only be asserted when a defendant's mental state constitutes an element of the charged offense. The City pointed out that DUI is an absolute liability offense, thus, under Montana law, involuntary intoxication cannot be used as a defense in this case and is irrelevant. The City also moved to exclude testimony from Missoula police officers regarding Paffhausen's involuntary intoxication defense, arguing that such testimony would be based on hearsay.

¶10 Paffhausen responded that she was not asserting the involuntary intoxication defense to challenge a mental state, but rather to show that she did not commit a voluntary act by driving. Paffhausen acknowledged that she voluntarily consumed a small quantity of alcohol the night she was arrested. She contended, however, that someone had drugged her without her knowledge, thus she should not be held responsible for anything that happened to her at the hands of a third party.*fn1 Paffhausen also argued that the police officers' testimony would be relevant based on their knowledge of intoxication and "date rape" drugs, and that such testimony was not hearsay.

¶11 The Municipal Court granted the City's motion to prevent Paffhausen from claiming involuntary intoxication as a defense, and from calling witnesses about the use of "date rape" drugs in Missoula. Paffhausen appealed to the District Court, but that court affirmed the Municipal Court's ruling. In its opinion and order, the District Court concluded that involuntary intoxication can only be used where the mental state of the defendant is an element of the crime. The District Court also stated that this Court did not specifically contemplate involuntary drugging in the listed defenses that may be provided for under an "automatism" defense. Paffhausen now appeals to this Court.

Standard of Review

¶12 We review a lower court's evidentiary rulings, including rulings on motions in limine and expert witness qualifications and competency, for an abuse of discretion. State v. Edwards, 2011 MT 210, ¶ 12, 361 Mont. 478, 260 P.3d 396; State v. Harris, 2008 MT 213, ¶ 6, 344 Mont. 208, 186 P.3d 1263. An abuse of discretion occurs when a court acts arbitrarily, without employing conscientious judgment, or exceeds the bounds of reason, resulting in substantial injustice. Harris, ¶ 6.

¶13 In addition, we review a lower court's legal conclusions to determine whether those conclusions are correct as a matter of law. City of Billings v. Gonzales, 2006 MT 24, ¶ 6, 331 Mont. 71, 128 P.3d 1014.

Issue 1.

¶14 Whether the lower court erred by failing to apply the voluntary act element of Montana's DUI statute.

¶15 Paffhausen contends that the lower court erred in ruling that the fact she may have been unknowingly drugged is irrelevant, and that Montana law precludes Paffhausen from presenting evidence that she was unknowingly impaired. She maintains that although DUI is an absolute liability offense and thus proof of a mental state is not required, the prosecution still must prove that she voluntarily committed the act of driving a vehicle. She argues, however, that her physical movements were the nonvolitional result of someone's act besides her own, and that they were set in motion by some independent non-human force. Consequently, she contends that the Municipal Court should have allowed her to present evidence that she was unknowingly drugged as it relates to the voluntary act element of DUI.

¶16 Paffhausen also argues that if she is not afforded the opportunity to offer evidence in a defense to the voluntary act element of the DUI statute, then that statute must be unconstitutional because it has severe penalties, carries a serious stigma, and is a "true crime" rather than just a regulatory act.

¶17 The State, arguing on appeal on behalf of the City, maintains that an involuntary act or automatism defense is not available to challenge driving offenses such as DUIs or stop-sign violations, because those offenses are absolute liability offenses. Thus, the manner in which a person became impaired is irrelevant since knowingly or unknowingly becoming impaired is not an element of DUI. The State maintains that even if this type of defense were available, it would not apply to Paffhausen because she was not acting involuntarily as defined by statute. In addition, the State argues that Paffhausen's alternative constitutional challenge was raised for the first time on appeal, thus Paffhausen has waived that argument.

¶18 Montana's DUI statute, § 61-8-401, MCA, provides the following:

(1) It is unlawful . . . for a person who is under the influence of:

(a) alcohol to drive or be in actual physical control of a vehicle upon the ways of this state open to the public;

(b) a dangerous drug to drive or be in actual physical control of a vehicle within this state . . . .

Thus, the elements of DUI that the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt are: (1) that the defendant was driving or in actual physical control of a vehicle; (2) upon the ways of this state open to the public; and (3) while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

¶19 The DUI statute goes on to say: "Absolute liability . . . will be imposed for a violation of this section." Section 61-8-401(7), MCA. Montana's statutes and case law define an absolute liability offense as an offense that does not require proof of a mental state of purposely, knowingly, or negligently. Section 45-2-104, MCA; State v. McDole, 226 Mont. 169, 175, 734 P.2d 683, 686 (1987).

¶20 In this case, Paffhausen admits that she meets two of the three elements in the DUI statute because she was on a public street, and she was impaired by a "date rape" drug.

However, she argues that the involuntary impairment from the "date rape" drug prevented her from voluntarily driving or being in actual physical control of the vehicle.

¶21 Paffhausen acknowledges that she cannot present evidence that she was unknowingly drugged to show that she lacked the mental state to commit DUI because DUI is an absolute liability offense and does not require a mental state. She maintains, however, that since the State still has to prove that she committed the voluntary act of driving or being in actual physical control of a vehicle, she should be allowed to offer rebuttal evidence that she did not act voluntarily as contemplated and provided for by Montana law.

¶22 Since this Court has not yet addressed the defense of automatism, Paffhausen cites cases from other jurisdictions in support of her argument. In Mendenhall v. State, 77 S.W.3d 815, 818 (Tex. Crim. App. 2002), that court held that one who engages in what would otherwise be criminal conduct is not guilty of a crime if he does so in a state of unconsciousness or semi-consciousness. Although this is sometimes explained on the ground that such a person could not have the requisite mental state for commission of the crime, the better rationale is that the individual has not engaged in a voluntary act.

Similarly, in State v. Wilson, 427 P.2d 820, 825 (Cal. 1967), that court stated:

Where a person commits an act without being conscious thereof, such act is not criminal even though, if committed by a person who was conscious, it would be a crime. This rule of law . . . applies only to cases of the unconsciousness of persons of sound mind as, for ...


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