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State v. Bittues

Supreme Court of Maine

May 30, 2019

STATE OF MAINE
v.
ARNO A. BITTUES

          Argued: May 7, 2019

          Caleb J. Gannon, Esq. (orally), Lipman & Katz, PA, Augusta, for appellant Arno A. Bittues

          Maeghan Maloney, District Attorney, David M. Spencer, Asst. Dist. Atty., and Frayla Tarpinian, Asst. Dist. Atty. (orally), Kennebec County District Attorney's Office, Augusta, for appellee State of Maine

          Panel: SAUFLEY, C.J., and ALEXANDER, MEAD, GORMAN, JABAR, HJELM [*] and HUMPHREY, JJ.

          HUMPHREY, J.

         [¶1] Arno A. Bittues appeals from a judgment of conviction of operating under the influence (OUI) (Class D), in violation of 29-A M.R.S. § 2411(1-A)(A) (2018), entered by the court (Kennebec County, Delahanty, J.) after a bench trial. We affirm the judgment.

         I. BACKGROUND

         [¶2] The following facts are drawn from the court's oral findings and from the trial record, viewed in the light most favorable to the State. See State v. Woodard, 2013 ME 36, ¶ 19, 68 A.3d 1250.

         [¶3] Approximately ten minutes before midnight on February 3, 2018, a trooper from the Maine State Police responded to a phone call from a residence in Wayne reporting moaning and yelling coming from outside. The trooper drove to the driveway at the address and observed a minivan with its front driver's side tire stuck in the snowbank on the left side of the long driveway. The driveway was plowed; however, there was some residual snow on its surface and about two and a half feet of snow on either side of the driveway. After confirming that there was no one in the minivan, the trooper continued to drive towards the home.

         [¶4] As he approached the house, the trooper observed one male standing close to the home, then heard moaning, looked to his left and saw another man, later identified as Bittues, kneeling face down in the snow about fifteen or twenty feet off the left side of the driveway. The trooper left his vehicle, walked over to Bittues, and observed a single set of footprints leading from the driver's side of the minivan running parallel to the driveway to the place where Bittues was kneeling. The trooper detected a strong odor of alcohol on Bittues's breath and noticed that his eyes were glassy and bloodshot.

         [¶5] After a second trooper arrived and helped the first trooper assist Bittues to walk from the snow to the driveway, Bittues told the troopers that he believed that he was in a parking lot outside a bar in another town-Winthrop. Bittues also confirmed that the minivan was his and that he was the only person who drives the vehicle, but he would neither confirm nor deny that he had driven that night. The first trooper attempted to administer a field sobriety test-the horizontal gaze nystagmus test; however, Bittues was unable to follow the trooper's directions for performing the test. The trooper transported Bittues to the Winthrop Police Department, where he administered an intoxilyzer test. Bittues had a blood-alcohol content of .25 grams of alcohol per 210 liters of breath. Meanwhile, the second trooper remained at the scene to wait for a tow truck and take photographs of the car and footprints.

         [¶6] Bittues was charged with OUI, in violation of 29-A M.R.S. § 2411(1-A)(A). At the bench trial, Bittues conceded that he was under the influence of intoxicants and contested only the allegation that he had operated a motor vehicle. The court found, based on the photographs and the troopers' testimony, that Bittues had operated the minivan while under the influence and sentenced him to ninety-six hours in jail-to be satisfied by the two-day alternative sentencing program-and imposed a $500 fine and a 150-day license suspension. Bittues timely appealed. M.R. App. P. 2B(b)(1).

         II. DISCUSSION

         [¶7] On appeal, Bittues argues that there was insufficient evidence for the court to have found, beyond a reasonable doubt, that he operated a motor vehicle while under the influence. When a criminal defendant claims on appeal that the evidence was insufficient to support his conviction, "we view the evidence in the light most favorable to the State to determine whether the fact-finder could rationally find every element of the offense beyond a reasonable doubt." Woodard,2013 ME 36, ΒΆ 19, 68 A.3d 1250. When the court makes specific factual findings in reaching its verdict, "we review those findings ...


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