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Motor Vehicle Administration v. Sanner

Court of Appeals of Maryland

August 22, 2013

MOTOR VEHICLE ADMINISTRATION
v.
JERRY DALE SANNER

Barbera, C.J. Harrell Battaglia Greene Adkins [*] Bell [*] Murphy JJ.

OPINION

Bell, C.J.

The respondent, Jerry Dale Sanner, was the driver of one of the motor vehicles involved in an accident on the night of May 12, 2007, in Westminister, Maryland. The officer that responded to the accident scene, having noted a "strong odor of alcoholic beverage emitting from the person and breath" of the respondent, arrested the respondent, and requested that he take a blood test to determine alcohol concentration. Following a hearing before the Motor Vehicle Administration ("MVA"), on December 10, 2007, the Administrative Law Judge suspended the respondent's drivers license for 90 days pursuant to Maryland Code (1977, 2006 Repl. Vol.) § 16-205.1 (b) (1) (I) (2) (A) of the Transportation Article.[1]

The Circuit Court for Carroll County reversed the order of suspension, holding that "reasonable grounds . . . that [Mr. Sanner] was under the influence of alcohol or intoxicated, " could be inferred "only if, in combination with the odor of alcohol, the accident was [Mr. Sanner's] fault." The petitioner, the MVA, filed with this Court a petition for writ of certiorari, which we granted. Motor Vehicle Admin. v. Sanner, 406 Md. 443, 959 A.2d 792 (2008).[2] The question presented for review is:

"Does a police officer's certification that a strong odor of an alcoholic beverage was present on the breath and person of a driver involved in a motor vehicle crash constitute reasonable grounds to request an alcohol content test under Transportation Article §16-205.1 (b) (2)?"[3]

We shall hold that the Administrative Law Judge's ("ALJ") determination, that the arresting officer had reasonable grounds to request that the respondent take a chemical test for alcohol concentration, was supported by substantial evidence, and, therefore, was not arbitrary, capricious, or premised on any erroneous conclusion of law. Accordingly, and for the reasons set forth hereinafter, answering the question presented in the affirmative, we shall reverse the judgment of the Circuit Court.

I. Background

On May 12, 2007, at approximately 10:00 p.m., a vehicle collision occurred at the intersection of Flower Avenue and Maine Street in Westminister, Maryland. Upon his arrival at the scene of the collision, Trooper First Class Brian Clinton of the Maryland State Police ("MSP") determined that the respondent was the driver of one of the vehicles involved in the collision and, while interacting with the respondent, he detected a strong odor of alcoholic beverage "emitting from [his] person and breath." The respondent was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol and taken to Carroll Hospital Center.

Upon his arrival at the hospital, the respondent was advised, through the MVA's DR-15 "Advice of Rights" form, [4] of the consequences of refusing or failing a chemical test for alcohol, and the administrative sanctions attendant to the taking or refusing of a test for alcohol content. The respondent agreed to take a test for alcohol content. Trooper Clinton directed an emergency care technician at the hospital to draw a specimen of blood from the respondent. That specimen was tested at the MSP Forensics Science Division by a qualified analyst, with the result that Mr. Sanner's blood alcohol content was found to be 0.22 – more than two-and-a-half times the legal limit. The test result was duly certified on MSP Form 33 (Notification to Defendant of Result of Test Alcohol Concentration). Trooper Clinton also completed a MVA DR-15A (Officer's Certification and Order of Suspension) form, in which he set forth the "Reasonable Grounds"[5] for his belief that Mr. Sanner was driving or attempting to drive a motor vehicle while under the influence or impaired by alcohol. He wrote:

"On 5/12/07 at 2200 hrs I responded to Flower Ave at Main St. for an accident. The 1st driver was identified by his [Maryland] Driver's License to be Jerry Dale Sanner. I detected a strong odor of alcoholic beverage emitting from person and breath. A blood test was completed and a .22 result was detected."

The respondent was notified that his driving privileges would be suspended for 90 days. In response, as he was permitted by § 16-205.1 (f) (1) of the Transportation Article[6] to do, the respondent requested a hearing to challenge the MVA's order of suspension. The matter was heard by an ALJ of the Maryland Office of Administrative Hearings, who accepted into evidence, without objection from the respondent, documentary exhibits offered by the MVA, namely, 1) Trooper Clinton's DR15A Certification; 2) The DR-15 Advice of Rights form signed by Trooper Clinton and the respondent; and 3) the MSP-33 Notification to Defendant of Result of Test Alcohol Concentration form. which recorded the respondent's test result of 0.22. Trooper Clinton had not been subpoenaed to the hearing.

After these exhibits had been admitted, the respondent moved for a "no action" disposition. He argued:

"[t]here [was] no evidence in the record, particularly the officer's certification, [MVA exhibit] Number Four, which indicate[s] that the police officer who stopped or detained Mr. Sanner had reasonable grounds to believe the person who was driving or attempting to drive while under the influence of alcohol or while impaired by alcohol. The [Maryland Transportation Article] clearly requires that in 16-205.1 (f) (8) (1). The only evidence, the only indication of anything is that there is emitting... Alcohol beverage emitting from the person and breath. Nothing else indicates in any way that Mr. Sanner is under the influence of or was impaired by alcohol. Clearly alcohol breath in itself isn't sufficient for those grounds under any standard in any judicial system for proving what is necessary to proceed under 16-205.1 and based upon those grounds no action should be taken."

The ALJ continued the matter so that Trooper Clinton could appear and testify. When the case reconvened, Trooper Clinton failed to appear, and the respondent renewed his request for a "no action" disposition. The ALJ reviewed the documentary evidence that had been admitted previously and, regarding the issue of reasonable grounds, concluded that it was ...


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