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State of Idaho v. Richard W. Wright

February 19, 2013

STATE OF IDAHO, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
RICHARD W. WRIGHT,
DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from the District Court of the First Judicial District, State of Idaho, Kootenai County. Hon. John T. Mitchell, District Judge; Hon. Penny Friedlander, Magistrate.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Lansing, Judge

2013 Opinion No. 11

Stephen W. Kenyon, Clerk

Intermediate appellate decision of district court affirming magistrate court's judgment of conviction, reversed.

Richard W. Wright appeals from the district court's appellate decision affirming Wright's misdemeanor conviction for leaving the scene of an accident. Wright asserts that the evidence was insufficient to prove the offense.

I.

BACKGROUND

On the morning of December 18, 2009, two witnesses observed Wright driving his vehicle on an icy road. When Wright attempted to turn onto another street, his vehicle slid off the road and hit a traffic sign, breaking the sign post and damaging his vehicle. He then reversed his vehicle back onto the road and drove away. The two witnesses, who were driving behind Wright when the accident occurred, followed him, obtained his license plate number, and reported the accident to the police. Later that morning, a law enforcement officer contacted Wright by telephone, at which point Wright confirmed that he had been involved in an accident, that he was aware that he knocked over a sign, and that he was intending to report the accident to law enforcement. When the officer subsequently visited Wright at his workplace, however, Wright denied that he had been involved in the accident, stating that another individual had been driving his vehicle.

Wright was subsequently cited for "leaving the scene of a property damage crash" under Idaho Code section 49-1301 and, following a bench trial, was found guilty of a misdemeanor. In an appeal to the district court, Wright asserted that the trial evidence was insufficient to support the conviction and that I.C. § 49-1301 was inapplicable to his conduct. The district court affirmed. Wright now appeals from the decision of the district court.

II.

ANALYSIS

On review of a decision of the district court, rendered in its appellate capacity, we examine the magistrate record to determine whether there is substantial and competent evidence to support the magistrate's findings of fact and whether the magistrate's conclusions of law follow from those findings. Losser v. Bradstreet, 145 Idaho 670, 672, 183 P.3d 758, 760 (2008); State v. DeWitt, 145 Idaho 709, 711, 184 P.3d 215, 217 (Ct. App. 2008). When a criminal action has been tried to a court sitting without a jury, appellate review of sufficiency of the evidence is limited to ascertaining whether there is substantial evidence upon which the court could have found that the prosecution met its burden of proving the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. State v. Bettwieser, 143 Idaho 582, 588, 149 P.3d 857, 863 (Ct. App. 2006); State v. Smith, 139 Idaho 295, 298, 77 P.3d 984, 987 (Ct. App. 2003).

Although Wright presents the issue on appeal as an ordinary sufficiency of the evidence question, the parties' divergent interpretations of the elements of the charged crime require that we first address that question.*fn1 See State v. ...


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