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Motor Vehicle Administration v. Nelson

Court of Appeals of Maryland

December 13, 2018

MOTOR VEHICLE ADMINISTRATION
v.
JAMES R. NELSON

          Argued: November 5, 2018

          Circuit Court for Prince George's County Case No. CAL17-23574

          Barbera, C.J. Greene McDonald Watts Hotten Getty Adkins, Sally D., (Senior Judge, Specially Assigned) JJ.

          OPINION

          WATTS, J.

         Md. Code Ann., Transp. (1977, 2012 Repl. Vol., 2018 Supp.) ("TR") § 16-205.1 is "commonly known as the implied consent, administrative per se law, [and] provides [] for the automatic suspension of the licenses of drivers who refuse to submit to testing for alcohol and drugs." Motor Vehicle Admin. v. Seenath, 448 Md. 145, 149, 136 A.3d 885, 887 (2016) (cleaned up). TR § 16-205.1(a)(2) provides for "implied consent" to take an alcohol concentration test, stating:

Any person who drives or attempts to drive a motor vehicle on a highway or on any private property that is used by the public in general in this State is deemed to have consented . . . to take a test if the person should be detained on suspicion of driving or attempting to drive while under the influence of alcohol, while impaired by alcohol, while so far impaired by any drug, any combination of drugs, or a combination of one or more drugs and alcohol that the person could not drive a vehicle safely, while impaired by a controlled dangerous substance, in violation of an alcohol restriction, or in violation of [TR] § 16-813 [(Driving Commercial Motor Vehicle with Alcohol Concentration in Blood or Breath Prohibited)].

         Despite TR § 16-205.1(a)(2)'s recognition of a driver's implied consent to take a test, the driver may refuse to take a test unless the driver has been in an accident that results in the death of, or a life-threatening injury to, another person. See TR § 16-205.1(b)(1), (c)(1). That said, a driver's refusal to take a test will result in consequences. For example, the first time that a driver refuses to take a test, the driver's license will be suspended for 270 days. See TR § 16-205.1(f)(8)(v)5A. TR § 16-205.1 is called the "administrative per se law" because the possible administrative sanctions-e.g., suspension of a driver's license-automatically result from a driver's refusal to take, or a driver's failure of, a test.

         Here, we must decide whether an officer is required to specify the type of test-i.e., a breath test or a blood test-when the officer requests that a driver take an alcohol concentration test.

         James R. Nelson, Respondent, crashed a vehicle that he had been driving. Corporal Brandon Foor of the St. Mary's County Sheriff's Office approached the vehicle. Nelson- who was conscious, but unable to move-said that he was drunk. Corporal Foor smelled a strong odor of alcohol on Nelson's breath. Corporal Foor requested that Nelson take an alcohol concentration test and Nelson refused. On behalf of the Motor Vehicle Administration ("the MVA"), Petitioner, Corporal Foor confiscated Nelson's commercial driver's license.

         Nelson requested an administrative hearing, at which his counsel moved that an administrative law judge ("the ALJ") take no action against Nelson. The ALJ denied the motion to take no action, and determined that Nelson had violated TR § 16-205.1. The ALJ ordered that Nelson's commercial driver's license be disqualified for 12 months, and that, instead of having his driver's license suspended for 270 days, Nelson would participate in the Ignition Interlock System Program. Nelson petitioned for judicial review. The Circuit Court for Prince George's County reversed the ALJ's decision, reasoning that Corporal Foor was required to specifically request that Nelson take a blood test.

         Before us, the MVA contends that the circuit court erred. The MVA argues that TR § 16-205.1 simply requires an officer to ask a detained driver to take an alcohol concentration test, but does not require the officer to advise the driver whether the alcohol concentration test will be a breath test or a blood test. Nelson responds that Corporal Foor was required to specifically identify the type of alcohol concentration test that he was being asked to take.

         We hold that, under TR § 16-205.1(b)(2)(ii)'s plain language, an officer is simply required to request that a driver take an alcohol concentration test; in other words, an officer is not required to specifically advise the driver whether the alcohol concentration test will be a blood test or a breath test. TR § 16-205.1(b)(2)(ii) unequivocally states that an "officer shall . . . [r]equest that the person permit a test to be taken[.]" (Emphasis added). In turn, TR § 16-205.1(a)(1)(iii) defines the word "test" as a blood test, a breath test, or both. Simply put, nothing in TR § 16-205.1 requires an officer to specify the type of alcohol concentration test when requesting such a test be taken.

         BACKGROUND

         Officer's Certification and Order of Suspension and Advice of Rights Form

         In an "Officer's Certification and Order of Suspension" dated November 6, 2016, Corporal Foor stated as follows. At 1:46 a.m., in St. Mary's County, Corporal Foor saw a vehicle that had "crashed off the roadway." Nelson was in the driver's seat, and said that he was drunk. Corporal Foor smelled a strong odor of alcohol on Nelson's breath. Nelson "was unable to satisfactorily complete" the Standardized Field Sobriety Test.

         Corporal Foor signed an "Advice of Rights" form, which was labeled DR-015 and dated October 2016, and stated in pertinent part:

You have been stopped or detained[, ] and reasonable grounds exist to believe that you have been driving or attempting to drive a motor vehicle under circumstances requiring that you be asked to submit to a test under [TR] §[ ]16-205.1. In this situation, the law deems that you have consented to take a test to measure the alcohol concentration or drug or controlled dangerous substance content in your system. You may refuse to submit to the test(s), unless you were in a motor vehicle accident resulting in the death of or life-threatening injury to another person.

Suspension of Your Maryland Driver's License or Driving Privilege:

If you refuse to submit to the test, or if you submit to the test and the result indicates an alcohol concentration of 0.08 or more at the time of testing, your Maryland driver's license shall be confiscated, you will be issued an Order of Suspension and, if eligible, a temporary license [that will be] valid for 45 days. The following periods of suspension shall be imposed against your license or privilege to drive in Maryland:

If you refuse to submit to a test, your suspension shall be 270 days for a 1st offense and 2 years for a 2nd or subsequent offense.

If your test result is an alcohol concentration of at least 0.08 but less than 0.15, your suspension shall be 180 days. If the offense involves a motor vehicle accident that resulted in the death of another person, your suspension shall be 6 months for a 1st offense and 1 year for a 2nd or subsequent offense.

If your test result is an alcohol concentration of 0.08 but less than 0.15, your suspension may be modified or a restricted license may be issued at a hearing.

If your test result is an alcohol concentration of 0.15 or more, your suspension shall be 180 days for a 1st offense and 270 days for a 2nd or subsequent offense. If the offense involves a motor vehicle accident that resulted in the death of another person, your suspension shall be 1 year for a 1st offense and for a 2nd or subsequent offense your license shall be revoked.

If you refuse a test, or take a test with a result of 0.15 or more, you shall be ineligible for modification of your suspension or the issuance of a restricted license, unless you participate in the Ignition Interlock System Program under [TR] §[ ]16-404.1.

(Bold and/or red text in original).

         According to the Advice of Rights form, at 1:47 a.m., Nelson refused to sign it. Both the Advice of Rights form and the Officer's Certification and Order of Suspension indicate that Nelson refused to take an alcohol concentration test. According to the Officer's Certification and Order of Suspension, Corporal Foor confiscated Nelson's commercial driver's license and provided him with a temporary license that would expire in forty-five days.

         Administrative Hearing

         Nelson requested an administrative hearing, which took place on August 17, 2017. At the administrative hearing, Corporal Foor testified that, on November 6, 2016, at approximately 1:30 a.m. or 2 a.m., while he was driving "south of Poplar Ridge Road[, ]" he saw a vehicle "off the roadway[.]" The vehicle's "front end was smashed [] in[.]" Corporal Foor approached the vehicle, and saw Nelson lying "on the side of the seat" with a large cut on his face. Nelson was conscious, but unable to move. Corporal Foor called Emergency Medical Services, which responded to the scene, and Emergency Medical Services personnel decided to take Nelson to a hospital. Nelson was placed on a stretcher and taken to UM Prince George's Hospital Center. Corporal Foor followed the ambulance to the hospital.

         Nelson testified that he was unconscious at the scene of the accident. According to Nelson, he experienced a concussion, the effects of which lasted one-and-a-half to two weeks. Nelson testified that he did not remember being involved in a motor vehicle accident, encountering Corporal Foor, being asked to take a field sobriety test, or giving blood at the hospital. According to ...


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