APPEAL FROM THE WHITE COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT. NO. CR-2013-287. HONORABLE ROBERT EDWARDS, JUDGE.
Hancock Law Firm, by: Charles D. Hancock, for appellant.
Dustin McDaniel, Att'y Gen., by: Kent G. Holt, Ass't Att'y Gen., for appellee.
ROBERT J. GLADWIN, Chief Judge. KINARD and BROWN, JJ., agree.
ROBERT J. GLADWIN, Chief Judge
Appellant William Gill appeals his convictions on charges of negligent homicide and failure to maintain adequate liability insurance by the White County Circuit Court. He argues that the circuit court erred in not dismissing the negligent-homicide charge because the State failed to present sufficient evidence (1) of criminal negligence and (2) that he caused the death of Ms. Emmaly Holt. He also argues that the circuit court erred in not dismissing the inadequate-insurance charge because the State did not prove that he failed to carry adequate insurance. We affirm.
On March 29, 2012, appellant was traveling on North Apple Street in Beebe, Arkansas. The victim, Ms. Holt, was traveling on Hwy 367, with no requirement to stop, yield, slow down, etc. at the intersection of those two roads. Appellant reported that he " stopped at the stop sign on Apple," and " looked both ways," but " did not see anyone coming." Appellant proceeded through the stop sign, and a collision occurred between his vehicle and Ms. Holt's vehicle. Appellant remained at the scene, and the police were called and responded. Ms. Holt was determined to be deceased at the scene of the collision.
During the investigation, blood testing determined that appellant had neither drugs nor alcohol in his system at the time of the collision; however, results indicated that Ms. Holt did have cannabinoids in her blood at the time of the accident. The undisputed facts are that Ms. Holt was not evaluated by a medical doctor, and no autopsy was performed as a part of the investigation. On October 28, 2013, the State filed a misdemeanor information, alleging that appellant committed the offenses of negligent homicide and failure to maintain adequate liability insurance.
On January 22, 2014, this matter was tried before the bench. The State's proof at trial included the testimony of Arkansas State Trooper Andy Simpson, who testified that on March 29, 2012, at approximately 10:45 a.m., he was dispatched to Beebe, Arkansas, specifically, the intersection of Highway 367 and North Apple Street. Trooper Simpson testified that, upon arriving, he observed two vehicles on the east shoulder of the road--a pickup truck and a smaller car--post-impact, with the pickup still up against the driver's side door of the smaller car. According to Trooper Simpson, the impact appeared to have occurred entirely in the right, northbound lane of Highway 367, the lane in which Ms. Holt's vehicle was traveling, with the pickup truck traveling eastbound on North Apple. He noted that the impact of the truck had pushed the car sideways, completely off the road and into the grass next to the intersection. Trooper Simpson further testified that there were stop signs on both sides of North Apple; that vehicles on Highway 367 had the right-of-way; and that the weather conditions that day were clear and dry.
Trooper Simpson explained that he measured the distance between the stop sign on North Apple and the point of impact of the collision to be approximately forty-three feet. Trooper Simpson also testified that the driver of the smaller car, identified as Ms. Holt, was still in her
vehicle and was obviously deceased. As part of his investigation, Trooper Simpson documented gouge marks in the concrete of the eastbound lane that established the point of impact. He stated that, given the point of impact, it did not appear that Ms. Holt attempted to veer or otherwise take evasive action as appellant's truck came into her lane. Similarly, there were no skid marks associated with appellant attempting to brake. Trooper Simpson testified that he made contact with appellant, who gave a statement with regard to the collision, claiming that he stopped at the stop sign, but " did not see" Ms. Holt's vehicle.
Trooper Ron Laslo, qualified as an expert in accident reconstruction, testified that he investigated the collision between appellant's and Ms. Holt's vehicles and reached certain conclusions with regard to the speed and respective direction of travel of the vehicles. Trooper Laslo testified that appellant's truck was traveling at a minimum of ten miles per hour; that the vehicles collided in Ms. Holt's lane; and that there were no skid marks visible from either way made by either vehicle.
Robert Burns, a deputy coroner with the White County Coroner's Office, testified that he was summoned to the collision site where he pronounced Ms. Holt dead. Based upon his training as a coroner, Mr. Burns testified that it was his opinion that the cause of Ms. Holt's death was blunt trauma and lacerations to the left side of the head and body as a result of her vehicle's collision with appellant's vehicle. Mr. Burns also noted that there were no other signs, other than the collision, as to why Ms. Holt died that day.
At the conclusion of the State's proof and of all the evidence, appellant moved for dismissal of the charge of negligent homicide on two specific bases: first, that the State failed to present substantial evidence of criminal negligence; and second, that the State failed to produce substantial evidence of Ms. Holt's cause of death. Appellant also moved for dismissal with regard to the insurance charge, alleging that the evidence admitted at trial through the State's witness was sufficient to overcome any rebuttable presumption that he did not have proper insurance. Those motions were denied.
The circuit court found appellant guilty of both offenses and sentenced him to six months in the county jail and an aggregate of $2500 fines and costs pursuant to a sentencing order filed on January 24, 2014. Appellant filed a timely notice of appeal on January 31, 2014, and an amended notice of appeal on February 19, 2014, which included a February 10, 2014 order denying indigency with respect to producing the transcript and record for appellate purposes.
A motion to dismiss at a bench trial, like a motion for directed verdict at a jury trial, is considered a challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence. Rule v. State, 2014 Ark.App. 390, 438 S.W.3d 279. In reviewing a challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence in a criminal conviction, the evidence is viewed in the light most favorable to the State, and this court affirms if the verdict is supported by substantial evidence. Id. Substantial evidence is evidence that induces the mind to go beyond mere suspicion or conjecture, and that is of sufficient force and character to compel a conclusion with reasonable certainty. Id. Circumstantial evidence may constitute sufficient evidence to support a conviction, but it must exclude every other reasonable ...