Court of Appeals No. A-8693. Trial Court No. 3SW-02-0283 CR.
January 26, 2005.
Appeal from the Superior Court, Third Judicial District, Kenai, Harold Brown, Judge, Trial Court No. 3SW-02-0283 CR.
Eric Derleth, Robinson Associates, Soldotna, for Appellant. Terisia K. Chle borad, Assistant Attorney General, Office of Special Prosecutions and Appeals, Anchorage, and Gregg D. Renkes, Attorney General, Juneau, for Appellee.
Before: Coats, Chief Judge, and Mannheimer and Stew art, Judges.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND JUDGMENT
Stacy Lee Gamble appeals his convictions for felony driving while intoxicated, vehicle theft in the first degree, and driving with a revoked license. Gamble contends that the State violated the corpus delicti rule by obtainingthese convictionsbased primarily upon statements he made to a state trooper — statements he claims were inadequately corroborated. He also argues that his conviction for vehicle theft was not supported by sufficient evidence because the State did not prove that he did not have permission to use his girlfriend's car. We conclude that the State did not violate the corpus delicti rule because Gamble's statements were sufficiently corroborated. We also conclude that the State presented sufficient evidence for a jury to find that Gamble did not have permission to use his girlfriend's car.
During the early morning hours of July 25th, 2002 Stacy Gamble had an argument with his girlfriend, Lani Sowle. Both Gamble and Sowle were intoxicated. Although the two lived together, the apartment was Sowle's and she asked Gamble to leave. Sowle went to her bedroom and did not see Gamble depart, but when she woke later that day, he was gone. The spare key to Sowle's black Buick Skylark and the car itself were also gone. Sowle called the police and reported her car as stolen.
During the afternoon of July 25th, Lori McComsey was driving south from Anchorage on the Seward Highway. According to McComsey, just south of the turnoff to Hope, she noticed a black sedan driving very erratically behind her. This sedan was later identifiedas Sowle's Buick Skylark. The car "jerk[ed] back one way [and] the other" crossing the fog line and center line repeatedly. As the sedan yawed back and forth, "half of the car would be over the center line" and well into the lane carrying oncoming traffic. McComsey observed this pattern for several miles. She then used her cellular phone to call 911.
In her telephone call to 911, McComsey described the sedan and provided its license plate number. She also described the driver as a male wearing a black cowboy or fishing hat. She reported that the driver was the only person in the car. (At trial, McComsey was unable to positively identify Gamble as the driver.) McComsey lost sight of the Sedan when it turned off onto the Sterling Highway towards Kenai, while she continued on the Seward Highway.
Alaska State Trooper Paul Randall, who was stationed in Cooper Landing, received McComsey's report. He also received information that the sedan had been reported as stolen. Trooper Randall waited for the car at Cooper Landing.
Trooper Randall saw Sowle's car drive past. But there were two people in the car, and he did not notice any erratic driving. The car pulled over in a turnout and Trooper Randall pulled in behind, activating his overhead lights. He then ordered the car's occupants to get out.
Wayne Whitley got out of the driver's seat. Whitley told Trooper Randall he had been staying at the Summit Lake Lodge. He identified himself with a Georgia driver's license. Whitley did not show any signs that he was intoxicated, and Trooper Randall released him at the scene. (The Troopers were later unable to contact Whitley to testify at Gamble's trial.)
Gamble got out of the front passenger's seat. According to Trooper Randall, Gamble was "unsteady on his feet, . . . his speech was thick[,] . . . [a]nd he had a noticeable odor of alcohol on him." The trooper saw an open beer can on the floor of the passenger side of the car, where Gamble had been sitting. A partially-consumed bottle of vodka was next to his seat.
Gamble told Trooper Randall that his driver's license was revoked. Gamble also said that Whitley was a hitchhiker who had "nothing to do with [the] vehicle" and "didn't know anything about the situation." Gamble said he had picked up Whitley somewhere after the turnoff onto the Sterling Highway. Gamble also admitted that he had asked Whitley to drive because his own license was revoked and that he (Gamble) had drank too much to be driving himself.
When told by Trooper Randall that the Buick had been reported as stolen, Gamble responded that the car belonged to his girlfriend and that he had taken it because she was on morphine and he did not want her to be driving. Gamble said he planned to give the car to his brother-in-law, who lived in Cooper Landing. Trooper Randall interpreted this statement to mean that Gamble had taken the vehicle without Sowle's permission. At trial, the State introduced a video tape of the stop which showed that Gamble was wearing a black hat with a full brim. Trooper Randall arrested Gamble and transported him to the Seward jail. Gamble's breath alcoholcontent was measured at .253 percent. The State charged Gamble with felony driving while intoxicated, vehicle theft in the first degree, and driving while his license was revoked. In a trial conducted by Superior Court Judge Harold Brown a jury convicted Gamble of all three charges.
The State did not violate the corpus delicti rule
The term " corpus delicti" means the "body of the crime." Under the corpus delicti rule, a criminal conviction cannot rest solely on an accused's uncorroborated confession. The corpus delicti rule requires the State to corroborate the accused's confession or admission by presenting independent evidence that the crime to which the accused confessed actually occurred. The corpus delicti rule does not require the State to corroborate the defendant's assertion of participation in this crime, but only the defendant's assertion that the crime occurred.
Black's Law Dictionary, 346 (7th ed. 1999).
McKenzie, 776 P.2d at 352.
Gamble first contends that Judge Brown erred in allowing the State to introduce his statements to Trooper Randall before admitting evidence to corroborate the statements. But Alaska follows the majority rule that the trial judge has discretion to allow "the government to introduce the defendant's confessionbefore it has introduced the additional evidence that will establish the corpus delicti, so long as the corpus delicti is proved before the government rests." Therefore, Judge Brown did not err in allowing the State to introduce Gamble's statements before introducing the evidence which corroborated those statements.
Dodds, 997 P.2d at 539-40.
Gamble next argues that the State did not present sufficient evidence, independent of his admissions, to establish that the three crimes charged against him — driving under the influence, driving while his operator's license was revoked, and vehicle theft — actually occurred. But, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to upholding Judge Brown's ruling, the testimony of Lani Sowle established that, following a domestic argument, Gamble took her car without her permission. Sowle further testified that Gamble was intoxicated when he took her car. Lori McComsey testified that she saw Sowle's car being driven erratically on the highway, and that the sole occupant of this vehicle (the driver) was a male wearing a black cowboy or fishing hat. Trooper Randall's testimony, and the accompanying video tape, established that Gamble was an occupant of Sowle's car when it was stopped, that Gamble was obviously intoxicated, and that Gamble was wearing the type of hat described by McComsey. Finally, Gamble stipulated at trial that his license was revoked.
Pease v. State, 54 P.3d 316, 331 (Alaska App. 2002).
In Alaska, the government's corpus delicti evidence "need not be sufficient, independent of the [defendant's] statements," to establish the occurrence of the crime. Rather, our corpus delicti rule requires the government to "introduce `substantial independent evidence which would tend to establish the trustworthiness of the [defendant's] statement.'"
When the testimony of Sowle, McComsey, and Randall is combined, this evidence is easily sufficient to meet this test. We accordingly uphold Judge Brown's ruling that the State satisfied its corpus delicti obligation.
The State presented sufficient evidence to establish that Gamble did not have permission to drive Sowle's car
A person commits vehicle theft in the first degree by taking another person's car without having any right, or reasonable belief that he had a right, to take the car. Gamble defended on the ground that he reasonably believed that he had permission to take Sowle's car. He pointed out that he lived with Sowle and had driven her car with her permission in the past. But the State presented evidence from which a reasonable jury could conclude that Gamble did not have a reasonable belief that he had a right to take Sowle's car. Sowle testified that she had, on two prior occasions, allowed Gamble to drive her car. But she specifically said that on those two occasions, she limited Gamble to driving only the one block to his mother's house. She specifically stated that she never authorized Gamble to take the car withouther permission. Sowle did admit to being under the influence of alcohol and morphine on July 25, when Gamble took the car. She conceded that the details of that evening were "hazy." But she specifically stated that she did not give Gamble permission to drive her car that night.
AS 11.46.360(a); Dobberke v. State, 40 P.3d 1244, 1247 (Alaska App. 2002).
When we look at the testimony in the light most favorable to the State, we conclude that the State presented sufficient evidence for a reasonable jury to conclude that Gamble did not have any basis to conclude that he had permission to take Sowle's car. We accordingly conclude that the State presented sufficient evidence for the jury to convict Gamble for vehicle theft in the first degree.
We conclude that the State satisfiedthe corpus delicti rule. We also conclude that the State presented sufficient evidence for the jury to conclude that Gamble committed the offense of vehicle theft in the first degree.
The judgment of the superior court is AFFIRMED.