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Supreme Court: DOT driving record sufficient proof of man’s decades-old OWI conviction

The Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled that a Department of Transportation driving record can serve as sufficient proof of a man’s decades-old OWI conviction.

A unanimous court on Thursday reversed the Court of Appeals’ decision in State of Wisconsin v. Alfonso C. Loayza.

Loayza was charged with a ninth-offense OWI in 2012, because of three drunken-driving convictions in California in 1989, 1990 and 1991, and five convictions in Wisconsin. Loayza conceded that the state offered sufficient proof for the 1991 offense, but not for the 1989 or 1990 offenses.

A circuit court found the proof to be sufficient and imposed the sentence for a ninth-offense OWI. The court then granted Loayza’s motion for re-sentencing and amended a judgment of conviction to eighth-offense OWI.

Upon appeal, the appellate court said the records from the California cases did not include a judgment of conviction in the 1990 case and raised doubt about whether the conviction was for an OWI. The Court of Appeals reversed and remanded with directions that the circuit court sentence Loayza for a seventh-offense OWI.

The case then went to the state Supreme Court to decide whether the State had sufficient proof for the 1990 conviction. The high court decided that it was “more likely than not” that Loayza had a 1990 OWI conviction, and therefore, the State met its burden of proof.

The state offered a certified copy of Loayza’s DOT driving record to establish the existence of the 1990 conviction. Loayza argued that the documentation didn’t support the premise that he was convicted of an OWI at the time.

The opinion, authored by Justice Ann Walsh Bradley, said the Court of Appeals did not give proper weight to Loayza’s previous admission to the 1990 conviction or to the materials in the record relating to his 1991 conviction.

Early in the case, Loayza didn’t challenge the existence of the three California convictions, but instead stated that he wasn’t sure if he was represented by counsel and had not validly waived counsel.

“Thus, Loayza’s own affidavit, at a bare minimum, acknowledges the existence of the 1990 conviction,” Bradley wrote.

The high court also found evidence of the 1990 conviction in the 1991 case. The minutes from Loayza’s plea hearing indicated that he admitted to three prior convictions.

“With an eye toward the fact that the applicable burden of proof here is a preponderance of the evidence, Loayza’s  admissions, coupled with the DOT driving record and the references to his probation, are sufficient to meet such a burden,” the opinion said.

Although Loayza’s challenge was unsuccessful, Bradley stressed that the information in a DOT driving record is not unassailable and a challenge to a DOT driving record doesn’t involve any burden shifting.

About Michaela Paukner, [email protected]

Michaela Paukner is the legal reporter for the Wisconsin Law Journal. She can be reached at (414) 225-1825 or by email at [email protected]

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