A three-judge panel of the Missouri court of appeals in Kansas City on Tuesday rejected a Holts Summit woman's argument that, if mistakes had not been made at her trial, she would not have been convicted for DWI and sentenced to serve seven years in state prison.
Jeanne Capozzoli, now 64, contended in her appeal that Cole County Circuit Judge Pat Joyce allowed three witnesses to testify during her 2017 trial who should not have been allowed to say she was intoxicated, because of a change to state law the Legislature approved earlier that year.
Capozzoli was arrested by Jefferson City Police on Dec. 15, 2015, after she was seen — in the words of the appeals court ruling — "stopped at a green light in the fast lane of traffic with the high beams on, and (the officer) noticed that she did not dim them for approaching or passing vehicles when she proceeded to drive. He followed the car and observed that she turned the headlights off (while driving) and the car wove back and forth in the lane.
"(The officer) activated emergency lights to stop the vehicle, but she did not (stop), so he activated the siren.
"Ms. Capozzoli continued driving slowly and weaving, nearly hitting another vehicle. She finally came to a stop in a lane of travel, despite having passed several places to pull off the road."
When she got out of the car, the officer reported, she did not put the car in park and it started rolling, and when he told her to put the vehicle in park, that "seemed to confuse her."
The officer conducted several field sobriety tests, then arrested Capozzoli for DWI.
During a search, the officer found a pill later identified as lorazepam, a depressant.
A breath test showed she had a blood-alcohol content of 0.075 percent — just below the legal level of intoxication in Missouri.
But a separate blood test showed Capozzoli also had lorazepam in her system, and a Highway Patrol criminalist who testified at the trial said, "at the levels observed, in combination with alcohol, the drug would enhance symptoms of 'drowsiness, dizziness, difficulties with coordination, confusion and divided-attention tasks.'"
Although she was arrested in December 2015, the trial occurred in November 2017 — after lawmakers had changed the state's law on who is an "expert" witness and what that person can and cannot testify to during a trial.
Among other provisions, the 2017 law said: "In a criminal case, an expert witness shall not state an opinion about whether the defendant did or did not have a mental state or condition that constitutes an element of the crime charged or of a defense.
"Those matters are for the trier of fact alone," either the judge or a jury.
Capozzoli's attorney objected to Joyce's decision to allow testimony from two Jefferson City police officers as well as the patrol's criminalist, indicating Capozzoli was intoxicated the night she was arrested.
"Ms. Capozzoli acknowledges that 'mental state' has been defined under Missouri law as the (reason) element of a crime, such as purpose, knowledge, recklessness and negligence," Judge Thomas H. Newton wrote for the three-judge appeals court panel. "Thus, her argument hinges on us finding that the 'intoxicated condition' element of a DWI offense constitutes a 'mental condition'" — because Capozzoli "contends that nothing in (the new law) defines what 'mental condition' means, and argues that intoxication is obviously a mental condition, because it 'affects the mind's capabilities.'"
And, Newton wrote for the court, while "it is unclear to us what criminal offenses the Legislature had in mind when it included 'mental condition' in the proscription on expert testimony where it is an element of the crime charged we do not believe that intoxication is a mental condition about which an expert may not testify in a DWI case."
Newton added: "In fact, our courts have 'characterized intoxication as a physical condition usually evidenced by unsteadiness on the feet, slurring of speech, lack of body coordination and an impairment of motor reflexes.'
"Hence, we find that intoxication is not a mental condition, and the statute's limitation does not apply."
The appeals court also noted, to get her conviction overturned, Capozzoli also had to show, without the evidence she had challenged, the trial jury would have made a different decision.
"We do not believe there is a reasonable probability that the jury would have reached a different conclusion had (one of the police officers) not testified."
Outside the jury's presence, Capozzoli was determined to be a "chronic offender," which enhanced her sentence.
She was convicted of DWI (a Class B felony), and driving while her license was revoked.
State Corrections records show Capozzoli currently is serving her seven-year sentence at the Chillicothe Correctional Center in North-Central Missouri.