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State v. Kohlmeyer

Court of Appeals of Iowa

April 19, 2017

STATE OF IOWA, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
KENDRA D. KOHLMEYER, Defendant-Appellant.

         Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Scott County, Joel W. Barrows, Judge.

         The defendant appeals her conviction for operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol, claiming insufficient evidence. AFFIRMED.

          Les M. Blair III of Blair & Fitzsimmons, P.C., Dubuque, for appellant.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Kyle Hanson, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee.

          Considered by Vogel, P.J., Potterfield, J., and Blane, S.J. [*]

          BLANE, Senior Judge.

         A jury found Kendra Kohlmeyer guilty of operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol (OWI), third offense. She claims (1) the verdict was not supported by substantial evidence in the record and (2) the trial court erred in denying her motion for new trial where the jury verdict was contrary to the weight of the evidence. Based upon our review, we find substantial evidence supports the jury verdict and affirm.

         I. Facts and procedural background

         On the evening of November 30, 2014, Kohlmeyer joined her boyfriend, Kasey Birkenbile, and her brother at a bar in Davenport. Birkenbile had been drinking for three to four hours and was intoxicated. The three drank a pitcher of beer after Kohlmeyer arrived. After finishing the pitcher of beer, they decided to go to Kohlmeyer's brother's residence. Kohlmeyer's brother drove a blue Chevy pickup truck. Kohlmeyer drove Birkenbile's white Chevy Equinox SUV with Birkenbile in the passenger seat. On the way, Kohlmeyer rear-ended her brother's pickup, which had stopped for a stop sign. As a result of the collision, the SUV's airbags deployed, Birkenbile's head struck the windshield "pretty hard" so that he was injured, and the SUV was totaled.

         Other motorists immediately came upon the collision scene. One motorist, Jennifer Agent, did not see the collision, but she did notice people yelling and doubled back to check on what was the scene of the accident. Agent saw a woman arguing with a man on the side of the road. When Agent returned, the darker vehicle involved in the accident was gone. Another motorist, Charles Jackson, identified Kohlmeyer at trial as the person he saw exit from the driver's side of the white SUV and observed she was "kind of like stumbling and stuff like that." Jackson also saw Kohlmeyer get into the blue pickup, which sped away from the scene. Jackson called 911 and followed the pickup to its destination; then he returned to the crash scene and reported to police the truck's location.

         Officer Kory Griffin responded to the crash scene, where he spoke with Birkenbile and the other witnesses. After approximately thirty to forty-five minutes, Officer Griffin proceeded to the vicinity of Kohlmeyer's brother's residence to investigate the blue Chevy pickup truck. Police found the blue pickup truck with fresh rear-end damage. Kohlmeyer, her brother, and another man were located near the blue pickup truck. Officer Griffin conducted an investigation. He observed Kohlmeyer smelled of alcohol, her speech was slow and slurred, and her eyes were red, bloodshot, and watery. She had difficulty keeping her balance and almost fell over when walking to the patrol car. Kohlmeyer admitted that she was intoxicated but maintained that she had not been driving.[1] Kohlmeyer failed numerous sobriety tests administered by Griffin at the police station and declined to provide a breath sample for chemical testing. Based upon his full investigation, including interviews with witnesses at the scene, Officer Griffin, a field sobriety test instructor with approximately 200 prior OWI investigations, testified that, in his opinion, Kohlmeyer was intoxicated when operating the vehicle.

         On December 23, 2014, a trial information was filed charging Kohlmeyer with Count I-operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol, third offense, in violation of Iowa Code section 321J.2 (2014); and Count II-leaving the scene of a personal injury accident in violation of Iowa Code section 321.261(1) and (2).[2] On May 18 and 19, 2015, a jury trial was held on Count I. Following the close of the State's evidence, Kohlmeyer's attorney made a motion for judgment of acquittal, arguing that the State had failed to present sufficient evidence that Kohlmeyer was intoxicated at the time she was operating the white SUV. The trial court denied the motion. Kohlmeyer did not present any evidence, and after closing arguments, the jury returned a guilty verdict. Kohlmeyer then filed a motion for new trial in which she argued that the jury's verdict was not supported by substantial evidence. The trial court denied the motion and sentenced Kohlmeyer.

         II. Standard of review

         We review a challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence for correction of errors at law. State v. Howse, 875 N.W.2d 684, 688 (Iowa 2016). "The jury's findings of guilt are binding on appeal if supported by substantial evidence." State v. Hopkins, 576 N.W.2d 374, 377 (Iowa 1998). "Evidence is substantial if it would convince a rational trier of fact the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt." State v. Jorgensen,758 N.W.2d 830, 834 (Iowa 2008). "We review the evidence in the light most favorable to the State, including legitimate inferences and presumptions that may fairly and reasonably be deduced from the evidence in the record." State v. Webb,648 N.W.2d 72, 76 (Iowa 2002); ...


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