State v. Hernandez

Missouri Court of Appeals, 1991.

815 S.W.2d 67.

Dressler, pp. 273-276


Facts: The defendant drove drunk and got into an accident that killed someone.  He was charged with involuntary manslaughter.  At trial, stickers and pins with pro-drinking slogans were presented as evidence over his objection.  He was convicted and he appealed on the basis that the pins and stickers should not have been admitted into evidence.


Issue: Was the evidence of the drinking slogans relevant to prove an element of the offense of involuntary manslaughter?


Rule: The evidence is admissible so long as it goes to show that the defendant was criminally negligent.


Analysis: The majority says that the slogans would prove that the defendant had knowledge of the risks of driving drunk.  However, the court says that the prosecution did not have the burden of proving that the defendant knew the risk because they did not charge him with an offense requiring the mens rea of recklessness.  The court instead finds that the evidence could only have been introduced as character testimony, which is only allowed when the defendant himself makes an issue of his reputation.


The dissenting judge claims that at least some of this evidence should have been allowed because it shows that the defendant knew what the effects of alcohol were.


Conclusion: The majority rules that the evidence should not have been allowed.  The court overturned his conviction.


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