In companion underage drinking cases, beer purchase tips the weight-of-the-evidence review

In People v. Kellie St. Andrews (3d Dept. 3/10/2011) and People v. Jimmy Joe St. Andrews (3d Dept. 3/10/2011), the Third Department reached conflicting conclusions on strikingly similar facts. In the two cases, the wife and husband, respectively, were both convicted of Endangering the Welfare of a Child. Both defendants were present on April 20, 2008, when their 16 year old son hosted a party behind the house with 20-40 guests, many of whom were under the age of 21. According to witnesses, Kellie St. Andrews purchased a 30 pack of Keystone-light beer for the guests’ consumption and “left it in the truck” for her son’s friends. As a result, she was further convicted of Unlawfully Dealing with a Child 1°. In addition to facilitating access to the beer, witnesses suggested that she condoned the behavior, because no one concealed the beer cans while she walked around. Even though some witnesses called into question whether she could actually see the underage drinking and that she may not have seen the underage drinking, the conflicting testimony was not resolved in her favor. 

A weight of the evidence review involves an independent evidentiary analysis of whether a different verdict would have been reasonable and asks the court to “weigh the probative force of conflicting testimony and resulting inferences.” The wife’s conviction was supported by the record and thus, not against the weight of the evidence. 

By contrast, Jimmy Joe St. Andrews’s conviction was set aside. He was also present, but most witnesses agreed that during the party, he was either busy taking care of his five year old grandchildren or had went inside by 7:30PM, when it was “really dark.” Further testimony revealed that “a man – who may or may not have been the defendant” yelled at a female guest who was riding a child’s toy and drinking beer; nonetheless, the court reasoned that it was still unlikely that he would have seen any drinking. The court resolved that it was “purely speculative” that he would see the beer cans “at a distance while he was tending to his two grandchildren.” Given the substantial amount of people drinking at the party, the court did not consider his ability to hear or in any way notice such a gathering.  

Both defendants claimed that they were unaware that underage drinking occurred. The factual distinction is Kelly St. Andrews’s beer purchase and more recognizable presence at the party, which supported her knowledge and patent facilitation of the underage drinking. (RB/LC)


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