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Motor Vehicle Administration v. Medvedeff

Court of Appeals of Maryland

December 19, 2019

MOTOR VEHICLE ADMINISTRATION
v.
ARIEL A. MEDVEDEFF

          Argued: October 7, 2019

          Circuit Court for Carroll County Case No. C-06-CV-18-000090

          Barbera, C.J., McDonald, Watts, Hotten, Getty, Booth, Wilner, Alan M. (Senior Judge, Specially Assigned), JJ.

          OPINION

          HOTTEN, J.

         This appeal was taken from a decision of the Circuit Court for Carroll County, which affirmed the decision of an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"), holding that an officer did not have reasonable grounds to believe Ariel Medvedeff ("Respondent") was driving or attempting to drive a motor vehicle while impaired, when the officer approached the vehicle following a traffic infraction, observed Respondent sitting in the driver's seat, and smelled alcohol on her breath and person. The Motor Vehicle Administration ("Petitioner") appealed the decision by the ALJ and the circuit court, and presents a single issue for our review:

Did the administrative law judge err in imposing his credibility determinations and inferences from circumstances at the scene of the drunk driving arrest to make a legal determination that the detaining officer lacked reasonable grounds to suspect that [Respondent], who was seated in the driver's seat after a traffic stop, was driving the vehicle, and therefore the officer could not request that she take an alcohol concentration test under Transportation Article § 16-205.1?

         For reasons we shall explain infra, we answer that question in the affirmative and reverse the decision of the Circuit Court for Carroll County.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         The administrative show-cause hearing elicited the following facts. On December 30, 2017 at approximately 11:45 p.m., Deputy Kathleen Yox ("Deputy Yox") and another unnamed deputy from the Carroll County Sheriff's Department conducted a routine traffic stop of a vehicle they observed failing to stop at a stop sign in Westminster, Maryland. The vehicle-a Ford F-350 pick-up truck-made a right turn at the stop sign instead of coming to a complete stop. As a result of the traffic infraction, Deputy Yox pulled behind the pickup truck and attempted to pull the driver over. Upon noticing the police vehicle, the driver of the pick-up truck traveled for a short distance before turning left into a shopping center parking lot, where Deputy Yox approached the vehicle from behind. At that time, Deputy Yox observed Respondent sitting in the driver's seat. A man, who was later identified during the traffic stop as Anthony Crany ("Mr. Crany"), was seated in the back of the truck, behind Respondent.

         Upon approach, Deputy Yox detected the odor of alcohol on Respondent's breath and person. Accordingly, Deputy Yox requested that Respondent exit the vehicle and submit to a series of Standard Field Sobriety Tests ("SFSTs") to ascertain whether she had been driving while under the influence of or impaired by alcohol. Respondent complied with the request to exit the vehicle, while Mr. Crany remained in the backseat.

         One of the SFSTs Deputy Yox performed on Respondent was a Preliminary Breath Test. The Preliminary Breath Test sample determined that Respondent had a blood alcohol concentration ("BAC") level of 0.14.[1] Because Respondent's BAC exceeded the legal limit of 0.08, Deputy Yox determined that she was impaired. During the course of administering the SFSTs, the alleged passenger, Mr. Crany, exited the vehicle and approached the other deputy. Mr. Crany insisted that Respondent had not been driving the vehicle when they were stopped. Instead, Mr. Crany alleged that he was the driver and that Respondent agreed to switch seats with him so that it appeared Respondent was driving at the time of the traffic violation. In light of this new narrative, the unnamed deputy administered a series of SFSTs on Mr. Crany, which revealed that Mr. Crany was also impaired. Ultimately, both occupants were placed under arrest and transported to the local police station for a breathalyzer test ("breath test"), where Respondent was informed of her right to refuse the test. She was also informed of the potential administrative consequences should she refuse the breath test.[2] After receiving this information and signing the DR-15 "Advice of Rights" form, Respondent refused to submit to the breath test and the officers confiscated her driver's license.[3] Respondent challenged the suspension of her driving privileges before the Office of Administrative Hearings.[4]

         The Administrative Proceeding

         The ALJ heard this case on May 15, 2018 and considered testimony from Respondent and Mr. Crany. Respondent testified that she and Mr. Crany were traveling from a restaurant in Westminster-where they both had been drinking alcohol-when Mr. Crany ran the stop sign. Mr. Crany and Respondent testified that they switched seats "almost immediately" after pulling into the parking lot to avoid negative consequences for Mr. Crany, who was afraid a drunk driving arrest would interfere with his security clearance at work. They alleged that Mr. Crany stopped in the parking lot, turned the vehicle off, and climbed over the center console into the backseat with the car keys, while Respondent entered the driver's seat. Both parties also testified that Mr. Crany exited the vehicle as Respondent began the field sobriety tests and advised the other deputy on the scene that Respondent had not been driving. Respondent testified that, after she had observed Mr. Crany exit the vehicle and advise the other deputy that he had been the one driving, Respondent confirmed Mr. Crany's assertion to Deputy Yox. Respondent maintained that she had not operated the vehicle that evening. Deputy Yox and the other deputy on the scene did not appear or testify at the show-cause hearing to corroborate or contradict this version of events.

         Respondent then moved, through counsel, for "No Action, "[5] arguing that the deputies did not observe her driving or attempting to drive, and merely sitting in the driver's seat of a motor vehicle while impaired or under the influence is not sufficient for a driving under the influence ("DUI") arrest. Respondent further argued that it was not possible for her to operate or attempt to operate the vehicle while intoxicated because the truck had been stopped when Deputy Yox observed her sitting in the driver's seat, and the keys were in the backseat with Mr. Crany at that time. The ALJ interpreted the Motion for No Action as a motion "based on [the] argument that the MVA has failed to meet its burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that the Licensee was driving or attempting to drive[, ]" and clarified that the appropriate ...


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