This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2000).

 

STATE OF MINNESOTA

IN COURT OF APPEALS

C3-01-1545

 

 

Paula Lynn Bachtle, petitioner,

Appellant,

 

vs.

 

Commissioner of Public Safety,

Respondent.

 

 

Filed March 26, 2002

Affirmed

Halbrooks, Judge

 

 

Freeborn County District Court

File No. C901297

 

 

Evan H. Larson, Larson Law Office, 201 South Main Street, Austin, MN 55912 (for appellant)

 

Mike Hatch, Attorney General, David L. Ramp, Assistant Attorney General, 525 Park Street, Suite 500, St. Paul, MN 55103 (for respondent)

 

 

 

            Considered and decided by Crippen, Presiding Judge, Peterson, Judge, and Halbrooks, Judge.

U N P U B L I S H E D   O P I N I O N

HALBROOKS, Judge

Appellant challenges the revocation of her driver’s license for operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated, arguing that the arresting officer lacked probable cause to believe that she was in control of the vehicle.  Appellant also claims that, because the evidence against her was insufficient to prove her guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, it was also insufficient to warrant revocation of her driver’s license.  Because the district court did not err in determining that appellant was in control of the vehicle, and because the reasonable-doubt standard does not govern judicial review of license revocations, we affirm.

FACTS

At 5:00 a.m. on February 18, 2001, Albert Lea police officers responded to a report of an assault at 533 Green Avenue, where Brenda Nelson was hosting a party.  Nelson’s guests included appellant Paula Lynn Bachtle and her husband, Todd Bachtle.  Nelson told Officer James Carlson that Todd Bachtle had assaulted her and appellant.  Although Todd Bachtle had already left the party, appellant was present when Carlson talked with Nelson.  Appellant appeared to Carlson to be intoxicated, as she had slurred speech, glassy eyes, and smelled of alcohol.  Carlson knew that appellant owned a white Honda Civic, and he saw a white Honda Civic parked outside the residence.  He advised appellant not to drive home and asked her if she needed a ride, but appellant told Carlson that she was going to remain at Nelson’s home for the night.  The police officers left the house at 5:28 a.m.  

            After leaving, Carlson decided to see whether appellant actually remained at Nelson’s.  Because he knew appellant’s address, Carlson parked his squad car on the route between the two residences.  Within a short time, Carlson saw a white Honda Civic pass by, within 20 to 25 feet of his squad car.  The immediate area was well-lighted and Carlson recognized appellant as the sole occupant in the car.  He began to follow her.

            Appellant ran a stop sign before crossing some railroad tracks.[1]  Carlson followed appellant into her driveway from a distance of approximately 50 feet.  As appellant walked away from her vehicle, Carlson called to her, instructing her to remain where she was.  Despite the relatively short distance between them, appellant did not respond.  She continued to walk toward the house, moving out of Carlson’s view for a few seconds.  As Carlson approached the home, appellant walked toward him on the deck attached to the home.  It was then 5:45 a.m.  Carlson asked appellant why she had not stopped when he called to her and why she had driven home when she said that she would remain at the party.  Appellant first stated that she had been home all morning and then told Carlson that an unknown female at the party had driven her home in appellant’s car.  When appellant refused to take field sobriety tests or submit to a preliminary breath test, Carlson arrested her for driving while intoxicated. 

The testimony of appellant, Todd Bachtle, and Nelson presented differing versions of the events.  Nelson and appellant testified that appellant gave her car keys to another guest and then walked home, leaving the party five minutes after the police left.  Appellant estimated that it took her 15 minutes to walk home and that she had been sitting on her deck for five to ten minutes before Carlson arrived.

Todd Bachtle testified that he left the party on foot after the dispute with Nelson and walked toward a nearby friend’s house.  He claimed that he returned to the party to retrieve the Honda Civic after the police left.  Todd testified that he drove the Honda Civic home but did not see a police car parked on the side of the road or Carlson following him.  According to Todd Bachtle, appellant was sitting on their deck when he arrived home and he walked into the house without speaking to her because he was angry with her.  He was not aware of appellant’s arrest until her father brought her home the following day. 

Appellant’s driver’s license was revoked pursuant to Minn. Stat. § 169A.53 (2000).  The district court upheld the revocation on the ground that there was sufficient evidence to prove that it was more likely than not that appellant was in control of a motor vehicle while intoxicated.  This appeal follows. 

D E C I S I O N

            We adopt a district court’s factual findings unless they are clearly erroneous.  Minn. R. Civ. P. 52.01.  The trier of fact performs the unique function of assessing witness credibility.  Tolzmann v. McCombs-Knutson Assoc., 447 N.W.2d 196, 198 (Minn. 1989).  Whether an individual was in physical control of a vehicle is a question of fact.  Hess v. Comm’r of Pub. Safety, 392 N.W.2d 586, 588 (Minn. App. 1986), review denied (Minn. Oct. 22, 1986).  The Commissioner of Public Safety must show by a preponderance of the evidence that an individual was actually in control of the vehicle.  Llona v. Comm’r of Pub. Safety, 389 N.W.2d 210, 212 (Minn. App. 1986). 

            The district court found Carlson’s testimony to be more credible than that of appellant and her witnesses.  Police officers noted that they left the party at 5:28 a.m.  Appellant claimed that she left five minutes later, or 5:33 a.m.  Based on appellant’s estimate that it took 15 minutes to walk from Nelson’s house to her house, the earliest that appellant could have arrived at her house was 5:48 a.m.  She then claimed that she was home for five to ten minutes before Carlson arrived.  But Carlson’s report indicated that he spoke with appellant at her home at 5:45 a.m. 

            Appellant’s testimony contains other inconsistencies.  She initially told Carlson that she had been home all morning but then said that another guest at the party drove her home.  At the implied-consent hearing, appellant testified that she had walked home.  Todd Bachtle testified that he drove the Honda Civic home and that he did not see Carlson following him or hear Carlson calling to him.  Despite appellant’s assertion that she and her husband look alike, the inconsistencies in appellant’s testimony and statements to Carlson, coupled with her improbable timeline, support the district court’s credibility determination.

            Appellant also maintains that, because respondent did not present proof beyond a reasonable doubt that she was driving a vehicle while intoxicated, respondent’s evidence is insufficient to warrant revocation of her driver’s license.  This argument appears to be based on a comment made by the district court in its order that respondent’s case “was not one that would have convinced the court ‘beyond a reasonable doubt.’”  The court’s comment is inapposite because the burden of proof in an implied-consent hearing is the less demanding standard of preponderance of the evidence.  Llona, 389 N.W.2d at 212.  Although criminal and implied-consent proceedings may consist of the “same substantive law, elements of proof * * * and, often the same evidence,” the different burdens of proof may cause divergent results in the two types of proceedings.  State v. Victorsen, 627 N.W.2d 655, 662 (Minn. App. 2001).  The district court’s order states clearly that the preponderance-of-the-evidence standard was met.

            Affirmed. 

 



[1] Carlson neglected to note appellant’s failure to observe the stop sign in his police report.