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DWI – Strict Liability Offense, Tackett v. State, 2017 Ark. App. 271

In this case, the Defendant appealed his DWI conviction arguing that the trial court erred in finding that the State was not required to prove a culpable mental state in order to obtain a conviction for a first-offense DWI. Tackett v. State, 2017 Ark. App. 271, at 1. Arkansas has the following culpable mental states:

  1. Purposely;

  2. Knowingly;

  3. Recklessly; and

  4. Negligently.

Ark. Code Ann. § 5-2-202.

The Defendant was arrested for a DWI after police officers found him asleep behind the wheel while his car was parked off Highway 67. Tackett, 2017 Ark. App. at 2. At trial, the Defendant argued that because he had no memory of the incident and was asleep, he lacked any mental state required for the State to be able to obtain a conviction. Id.

Under previous case law from 2015, the Arkansas Supreme Court had ruled that although the DWI statue did not provide for an express requirement of a culpable mental state, one was required. Leeka v. State, 2015 Ark. 183, 461 S.W.3d 331.

Following this case, however, the Arkansas Legislature amended the DWI statute to specifically designate DWIs as strict-liability offenses. Tackett v. State, 2017 Ark. App. 271, at 3. And, the State argued that, due to this amendment to the DWI statute, it was not required to prove the Defendant had a culpable mental state before securing a conviction. Id.

Strict liability offenses are crimes in which the State does not have to prove a defendant’s mental state as an element of the offense. All criminal acts have a set of elements that the State has to prove in order to obtain a conviction, and typically, a defendant’s mental state at the time of the crime is an element that must be proven.

The Arkansas Court of Appeals ultimately found that because the legislature amended the DWI statute to provide that DWIs are strict-liability offenses, the State is not required to prove the existence of a culpable mental state before a fact-finder can convict a defendant for violating the DWI statute. Id. at 4.

The statute at issue is codified at Arkansas Code Annotated section 5-65-103 and states, “[a]n alcohol-related offense under this section is a strict liability offense.” Ark. Code Ann. § 5-65-103 (c). The effective date of this legislative amendment was July 22, 2015. Id.

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