Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Motor Vehicle Administration v. Krafft

Court of Appeals of Maryland

April 21, 2017

Motor Vehicle Administration
v.
Robert Allen Krafft Motor Vehicle Administration
v.
Paul Mcguire Styslinger

          Argument: February 3, 2017

         Circuit Court for Somerset County Case No. 19-C-16-017845

         Circuit Court for Montgomery County Case No. 412953

          Barbera, C.J., Greene Adkins McDonald Watts Hotten Getty, JJ.

          OPINION

          McDonald, J.

         As part of the effort to detect drunk drivers and keep them off the State's roadways, the General Assembly has enacted a statute known as "the implied consent, administrative per se law."[1] That law authorizes a law enforcement officer who believes that an individual has been driving (or attempting to drive) while impaired by alcohol to ask the individual to take a breath test for blood alcohol concentration. If the individual refuses, the individual's driving privileges in Maryland are automatically suspended for a time period specified in the statute.

         The law allows an individual whose driving privileges are suspended under the implied consent, administrative per se law to challenge the suspension at an administrative hearing. The statute limits the issues that may be contested at such a hearing. In a test refusal case, those issues ordinarily are: (1) whether the officer had reasonable grounds for believing that the individual was driving (or attempting to drive) while impaired, (2) whether there was evidence of alcohol use by the individual, (3) whether the officer properly advised the individual in accordance with the statute when requesting the breath test, and (4) whether the individual refused the test.

         These two cases concern administrative hearings in test refusal cases. In each case, the administrative law judge ("ALJ") overturned the suspension on the ground that, while it was undisputed that the individual was under the influence of alcohol when the individual was detained by a law enforcement officer, it was not established, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the individual had actually been driving (or attempting to drive) at that time.

         We hold that, in a test refusal case, there is no requirement that the Motor Vehicle Administration ("MVA") prove that the individual was actually driving (or attempting to drive) while under the influence of alcohol. Rather, the relevant question is whether the officer had reasonable grounds to believe that that the individual was doing so. In one of these cases, the ALJ clearly found that the officer had reasonable grounds, and thus the suspension should have been upheld. In the other case, the ALJ's finding on the issue of reasonable grounds was at best ambiguous, and we remand the case for clarification.

         I

         Background

         A. The Implied Consent, Administrative Per Se Law

         Every state has enacted some form of an implied consent law as part of its strategy to combat drunk driving. See Missouri v. McNeely, 133 S.Ct. 1552, 1566 (2013). The Maryland implied consent, administrative per se law appears in Maryland Code, Transportation Article ("TR"), §16-205.1. That law authorizes a law enforcement officer to request a suspected drunk driver to submit to a chemical test to determine blood alcohol content in certain circumstances.[2] If the test shows a blood alcohol concentration above a certain amount, or if the individual refuses to take the test, an administrative suspension of the individual's driving privileges follows.

         Implied Consent. As to implied consent, the statute provides that anyone who drives (or attempts to drive) a motor vehicle in Maryland "is deemed to have consented" to take a breath test to determine blood alcohol concentration "if the person should be detained on suspicion of driving or attempting to drive while under the influence of alcohol." TR §16-205.1(a)(2).[3] Although the statute deems all motorists in Maryland to have consented to take a breath test, it nonetheless allows an individual detained under suspicion of drunk driving to elect at that time whether or not to take the test. TR §16-205.1(b).[4] Thus, while consent is implied, it may be withdrawn. But a refusal to take the test has consequences. That is where the "administrative per se" aspect of the statute comes in.

         Administrative Per Se. At the time of the events underlying these cases, a refusal to take the test resulted in an automatic administrative license suspension of 120 days for the first such refusal, and in a suspension of one year for a second or subsequent test refusal. TR §16- 205.1(b)(1)(i)3, (b)(1)(ii)3 (2015).[5] The alternative, of course, would be for the individual to take the test. If the individual does so, the test result will either carry a lesser period of administrative suspension or no suspension at all.[6] In either case, a suspension may be modified in favor of a restricted license that allows the individual to drive for employment, education, or similar purposes. TR §16-205.1(o), (p).

         Thus, the statute provides an incentive to take the test, at least in terms of the potential administrative sanction.[7] The automatic suspension for a test refusal, and the greater sanction compared to an adverse test result, are designed to encourage drivers to take the breath test, so that impaired drivers may be detected and removed from the roadways in the interest of safety. Motor Vehicle Administration v. Deering, 438 Md. 611, 616 (2014).

         Procedure and Appeal. Once a law enforcement officer has detained a suspected drunk driver, the officer is to advise the detainee, among other things, of the possible administrative sanctions for a refusal to take the breath test and for test results that show a blood alcohol concentration above certain levels. TR §16-205.1(b)(2). Typically, the officer satisfies this requirement by reading, and providing the driver with, a form created by the MVA for that purpose, known as the DR-15 form (Advice of Rights). That form sets forth a detained driver's options under the implied consent, administrative per se statute, the consequences of failing to take the breath test and of test results that indicate certain levels of blood alcohol concentration, and other rights and consequences, including the right to an administrative hearing. The officer indicates on the form the election made by the individual and certifies by signature that the individual has been advised of those rights. There is also a space on the form for the individual to confirm his or her election by signature.

         If the individual refuses to take the test or fails the test, the officer is to serve an order of suspension on the individual, confiscate his or her license, and issue a temporary license that may be used for a maximum of 45 days or until the individual's license is formally suspended after a license suspension hearing. TR §16-205.1(b)(3). The MVA has created another form, known as the DR-15A form (Officer's Certification and Order of Suspension), for this purpose. On that form, the officer summarizes, under penalty of perjury, the facts that led the officer to suspect the individual of drunk driving and records other information concerning the individual and the incident. The individual's copy of the form serves as a temporary license pending any hearing.

         If the individual requests an administrative hearing to contest the suspension, it is to be conducted under the contested case provisions of the State Administrative Procedure Act. TR §§16-205.1(f), 12-206; Maryland Code, State Government Article ("SG"), §10-201 et seq. Under a delegation from the MVA, the hearing is conducted by an ALJ of the Office of Administrative Hearings ("OAH"). TR §12-104(e); COMAR 11.11.02.07. The statute enumerates the specific issues that can be raised at the license suspension hearing. In a test refusal case, those issues are usually limited to: (1) whether the officer had reasonable grounds for believing that the individual was driving (or attempting to drive) while impaired, (2) whether there was evidence of alcohol use by the individual, (3) whether the officer properly advised the individual in accordance with the statute when requesting the breath test, and (4) whether the individual refused the test. TR §16-205.1(f)(7)(i)1-4[8]; see also Motor Vehicle Administration v. McDorman, 364 Md. 253, 259-60 (2001).

         At the conclusion of the administrative hearing, if the ALJ is persuaded that the criteria for a suspension under the implied consent, administrative per se law are satisfied, the ALJ is to uphold the license suspension. TR §16-205.1(f)(8). If the ALJ finds that the criteria have not been met, the ALJ takes "no action" - i.e., overturns the suspension. In either case, the ALJ's decision is the final decision of the MVA. COMAR 11.11.02.07A. The OAH has apparently developed a form on which an ALJ may document the ALJ's findings on the relevant issues.

         Either party may seek judicial review pursuant to the State Administrative Procedure Act. TR §12-209; SG §10-222. After review by a circuit court, any further appeal must be pursued by a petition for writ of certiorari directly to this Court. Maryland Code, Courts & Judicial Proceedings Article ("CJ"), §12-305.

         The Predicate. A law enforcement officer has no authority to arbitrarily request an individual - even one who is driving a car - to take a breath test or face legal consequences. As the above outline of the statute indicates, there is a predicate for a test request that triggers the operation of the implied consent, administrative per se law: the law enforcement officer must have detained the individual upon a reasonable suspicion of drunk driving. Thus, a suspension for a test refusal is to be upheld only if the law enforcement officer who detained the suspected drunk driver had "reasonable grounds to believe" that the individual was driving (or attempting to drive) while impaired by alcohol.

         These cases concern application of that predicate.

         B. Facts and Proceedings

         1. MVA v. Styslinger

         Circumstances of Test Refusal

         The essential facts are undisputed. On March 28, 2015, at approximately 1:10 a.m., Officer Alex Pockett of the Gaithersburg City Police Department responded to a report that a driver was slumped over his steering wheel at a location on Washington Boulevard in Gaithersburg. Upon his arrival, Officer Pockett found Paul M. Styslinger asleep in the driver's seat with the motor running. Officer Pockett detected a moderate odor of alcohol on the breath of Mr. Styslinger who, upon waking, admitted that he had been drinking alcohol that evening.

         Officer Pockett asked Mr. Styslinger to perform some standard field sobriety tests, which Mr. Styslinger was unable to do to the officer's satisfaction. Officer Pockett then detained Mr. Styslinger and transported him to the Gaithersburg police station for further investigation.

         At the police station, Officer Pockett advised Mr. Styslinger of his rights by reading him the DR-15 form. He asked Mr. Styslinger if he was willing to undergo a blood alcohol concentration test. Mr. Styslinger refused to submit to a test. Officer Pocket confiscated Mr. Styslinger's driver's license, and issued an order of suspension together with a temporary license on the DR-15A form. Mr. Styslinger made a timely request for an administrative hearing concerning the suspension.

         The Administrative Hearing

         The administrative hearing was conducted by an ALJ on July 31, 2015. As is typically the case, the MVA's evidence consisted entirely of documents, including the forms related to Mr. Styslinger's encounter with Officer Pockett on March 28, 2015. Among the documents submitted were the DR-15A form (Officer's Certification and Order of Suspension) and the DR-15 form (Advice of Rights), which documented Mr. Styslinger's test refusal and which had been signed by both the officer and Mr. Styslinger. On the DR-15A form, Officer Pockett stated under penalty of perjury that he had reasonable grounds to believe that Mr. Styslinger had been driving (or attempting to drive) while under the influence of alcohol and briefly summarized his encounter with Mr. Styslinger that evening. At the hearing the ALJ also accessed Mr. Styslinger's driving record, which reflected a prior test refusal and suspension 15 years earlier.

         After the MVA records were admitted in evidence, Mr. Styslinger presented his case through the testimony of himself and Alisa Cottone, with whom he lived and with whom he had a child. Mr. Styslinger admitted that he had parked his car before visiting a gym and drinking at two bars that evening, but denied that he had attempted to drive after doing so. He said that he had contacted the Uber car service for a ride home and was waiting in his car with the motor running in order to stay warm when he fell asleep until he was wakened by the officer. There was no direct evidence from Mr. Styslinger's phone records or Uber documenting that he had contacted Uber. However, Ms. Cottone testified that he had called her that night and told her that he was going to use Uber to get home.[9]

         At the conclusion of Mr. Styslinger's evidence, his counsel asked the ALJ to take no action, arguing that there was no evidence that Mr. Styslinger had driven or attempted to drive his car while impaired.[10] The ALJ was unpersuaded at that point that he should "grant a no action" and continued the case in order to have Officer Pockett subpoenaed "to hear a little bit more from the officer about what the officer recollects that he observed."

         Ultimately, Officer Pockett did not testify in person and, at a continuation of the hearing on November 12, 2015, the ALJ rendered a decision based on the evidence previously adduced.[11] At that time, the ALJ took no action on the suspension. The ALJ explained his decision as follows. He first found that Officer Pockett "had reasonable grounds to believe that [Mr. Styslinger] was driving or attempting to drive a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol" based on the officer's report that he found Mr. Styslinger asleep in his car with the motor running, that Mr. Styslinger's breath smelled of alcohol, and that Mr. Styslinger failed the field sobriety tests. The ALJ also found that Officer Pockett had ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.