Updated on June 2, 2020
Voluntary Intoxication Not a Defense to Reckless Homicide
State v. Claerhout, No. 115,227 (Kan. Dec. 6, 2019).
(1) Did the trial court correctly admit a past diversion agreement to demonstrate a a knowledge of the dangers of driving while intoxicated?
(2) Is voluntary intoxication a defense to reckless homicide?
(1) Yes, evidence of a prior diversion agreement for driving while intoxicated can demonstrate that a defendant understood driving while intoxicated was dangerous.
(2) Voluntary intoxication is not a defense to reckless homicide.
Facts: Jeremy Claerhout hit another vehicle while driving intoxicated, killing the other driver. Claerhout was charged with second-degree murder for unintentional but reckless homicide, involuntary manslaughter. At trial, Claerhout argued he could not form a reckless mindset because he was intoxicated and was only guilty of involuntary manslaughter. The State successfully moved for Claerhout’s past diversion agreement for driving while intoxicated to be admitted to show recklessness. Claerhout was found guilty on all three charges, and the trial court vacated the involuntary manslaughter conviction. The Court of Appeals of the State of Kansas affirmed the jury’s conviction with one judge dissenting. Claerhout appealed.
The trial court correctly concluded the prior diversion agreement was probative. It showed Claerhout understood the dangers of driving while intoxicated. Claerhout’s signing of the agreement was enough to demonstrate his acknowledgement the risks of driving while intoxicated. In this instance, the probative value of the evidence outweighed any prejudicial effect because it was uncontroverted.
The trial court correctly denied Claerhout’s voluntary intoxication jury instruction. Recklessness exists when the circumstances manifested extreme indifference to the value of human life. The Kansas Supreme Court observed that other cases have “allowed the prosecution to introduce evidence of voluntary intoxication to prove recklessness.” Thus, voluntary intoxication was not a defense to reckless homicide.
State v. Claerhout, 406 P.3d 380 (Kan. Ct. App. 2017).
Kan. Stat. Ann. § 60-455(b) (Supp. 2018).
Kan. Stat. Ann. § 21-5403(a)(2) (Supp. 2018).