This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1998).
IN COURT OF APPEALS
State of Minnesota,
Bradley Edward Praznik,
Rice County District Court
File No. K5981775
Mike Hatch, Attorney General, 525 Park Street, Suite 500, St. Paul, MN 55103; and
G. Paul Beaumaster, Rice County Attorney, Nathaniel J. Reitz, Assistant County Attorney, 218 Third Street NW, Suite 200, Faribault, MN 55021 (for respondent)
John M. Stuart, State Public Defender, Scott G. Swanson, Assistant Public Defender, 2829 University Avenue SE, Suite 600, Minneapolis, MN 55414 (for appellant)
Considered and decided by Willis, Presiding Judge, Kalitowski, Judge, and Halbrooks, Judge.
Appellant Bradley Praznik appeals from convictions of gross misdemeanor DWI and gross misdemeanor driving after cancellation, arguing that the state did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Praznik, found lying alone in a ditch next to a truck registered in his name, and in possession of the keys to the truck, had been driving the truck before it became disabled. Because the direct and circumstantial evidence were sufficient to support Praznik’s convictions, we affirm.
In the early morning hours of December 13, 1998, Trooper Douglas Rauenhorst was on patrol near the city of Northfield. Trooper Rauenhorst drove north on Highway 3 to Northfield and saw nothing unusual on the highway. He drove on other roads for about 20 minutes and, shortly before 3:00 a.m., returned to Highway 3. Trooper Rauenhorst sat parked on the highway for a brief period until a motorist stopped by his vehicle. The motorist told Trooper Rauenhorst that he had seen a man near a pickup truck on the side of the road apparently attempting to stop passing vehicles.
Trooper Rauenhorst proceeded south on Highway 3, stopping when he saw a pickup truck parked on the shoulder of the road. As the trooper walked towards the vehicle he saw a man, later identified as appellant Bradley Praznik, lying on the ground with a blanket. After directing Praznik to stand up, the trooper determined that he was intoxicated. Although Praznik had the vehicle’s keys in his hand, he told the trooper that a friend had driven the vehicle. Trooper Rauenhorst, however, did not see any other people on the road and also noticed that the passenger compartment and back seat of the vehicle were covered with debris, seemingly unused by any passenger. A check of the vehicle’s registration revealed that it belonged to Praznik.
Trooper Rauenhorst brought Praznik to the Rice County jail. Praznik submitted to an Intoxilyzer test which revealed an alcohol concentration of 0.17. Subsequently, Trooper Rauenhorst transported Praznik to a hospital for treatment of what were apparently self-inflicted injuries. The trooper testified that, during the drive, Praznik told him “that after he blew his truck up he pulled over to the side of the road.” The trooper testified that Praznik was referring to himself when telling who “blew” the vehicle’s engine.
Praznik was charged with one count of aggravated DWI under Minn. Stat. § 169.129, subd. 2(b) (1998), three counts of DWI under Minn. Stat. § 169.121, subd. 1(a), (d), (e) (1998), and one count of driving after cancellation under Minn. Stat. § 171.24, subd. 5 (1998). A jury convicted Praznik of all counts.
D E C I S I O N
On appeal, the only challenge made by Praznik is that the evidence was insufficient to support a finding that he had been driving the vehicle. In reviewing the sufficiency of the evidence, this court must determine whether, in light of the record and the inferences that can be drawn from the facts therein, a reasonable jury could have concluded that the defendant was guilty of the charged offense. State v. Bias, 419 N.W.2d 480, 484 (Minn. 1988). This court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the state’s case and must assume that the jury believed the state’s witnesses and disbelieved any contrary evidence. Id.; State v. Pieschke, 295 N.W.2d 580, 584 (Minn. 1980). The issues of credibility and weight of the evidence are for the jury to decide. Bias, 419 N.W.2d at 484.
Praznik contends that his conviction must be more strictly scrutinized because it was based on circumstantial evidence. See id. (stating “[a] conviction based on circumstantial evidence merits stricter scrutiny”). Circumstantial evidence is entitled to as much weight as direct evidence as long as the evidence is “consistent with the hypothesis that the accused is guilty and inconsistent with any rational or reasonable hypothesis except for that of guilt.” State v. Wallace, 558 N.W.2d 469, 472 (Minn. 1997). But the stricter standard for proof by circumstantial evidence applies only where the conviction is based solely on circumstantial evidence. See State v. Jones, 516 N.W.2d 545, 549 (Minn. 1994) (“[A] conviction based entirely on circumstantial evidence merits stricter scrutiny than convictions based in part on direct evidence.”) (emphasis added).
Praznik’s conviction was based, in part, on direct evidence. By telling Trooper Rauenhorst that he had pulled over after he blew the vehicle’s engine, Praznik admitted that he was the driver of the vehicle. In a prosecution for driving under the influence, an admission by the defendant that he had been driving is direct evidence. See State v. Stokes, 354 N.W.2d 53, 56 (Minn. App. 1984) (noting a DWI defendant’s admission that he was driving and had consumed alcohol was direct evidence).
In light of Praznik’s admission and the fact that he owned the vehicle and possessed the keys, the jury could reasonably have concluded Praznik had been driving. Furthermore, the evidence presented was inconsistent with Praznik’s claim that another person had been driving the vehicle. The citizen driver who reported the disabled vehicle saw only one person on the side of the road. Trooper Rauenhorst likewise did not see anyone else who might have been the driver and Praznik never identified his “friend” by name. The condition of Praznik’s vehicle, with debris covering the passenger areas, indicated that only one person had been riding in the truck. Finally, Praznik’s apparent decision to sleep outside the truck is inconsistent with the idea that he was waiting for his friend to return with help. Considering that the record is replete with evidence pointing to Praznik as the driver, and considering that the only evidence supporting his assertion to the contrary was Praznik’s initial statement to the trooper, the evidence was sufficient to support his conviction.