February 21, 2015

Illegal Evidence Inadmissible in Court…but OK for License Suspension Hearing?

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I’ve posted often in the past about "The DUI Exception to the Constitution" and how constitutional rights in drunk driving cases have been steadily eroded over recent years.  See, for example, The DUI Exception to the Constitution and Who Cares About DUI Suspects?.  

One of the most extreme examples of this is the near absence of due process and constitutional rights in administrative license suspension hearings.  See DUI DMV Hearing: Where’s the Due Process?.     

To take one example, let’s take a  look at California’s system of "due process" in a DUI license suspension proceeding.  To begin with, the hearing is not presided over by a judge or even an "administrative law judge" — or even a lawyer.  Rather, it is presided over by a "hearing officer" who has no legal training, and possibly not even a college degree — and yet he will be making decisions on such things as admissibility of evidence without  any training in evidence or other legal matters.  Worse, this supposedly "impartial" hearing officer is an employee of the DMV — the very agency who is suspending the license (and wants to see the suspension upheld)!  

So who is the prosecutor in the DMV license suspension hearings?  Same Guy.  Yes, this uneducated employee of the DMV serves as both prosecutor and judge!  If the hearing officer offers evidence against the accused driver, and the driver makes a legal objection, this same hearing officer rules on that objection and decides whether his own offered evidence is admissible.  He will, of course, decide at the end of the proceeding whether his employer’s suspension against the driver is upheld or reversed.  You can imagine the inevitable outcome.

To take a recent example of this extreme denial of constitutional rights in a DUI case, reported in The Newspaper.com:

North Carolina Court Admits Illegally Obtained Evidence in License Case

Police may not violate constitutional rights to obtain a drunk driving conviction, but the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) can. The North Carolina Court of Appeals came to that conclusion last week in reinstating the driver’s license suspension of Myra Lynne Combs.

On January 6, 2013, Mount Airy Police Officer David Grubbs wrongly stopped Combs, who was behind the wheel of a blue SUV. An anonymous caller reported seeing a blue Ford Explorer weaving on Highway 52. Officer Grubs saw Combs, but her driving was just fine. She neither weaved nor committed any traffic violations. Officer Grubbs decided to stop her anyway once she had reached her destination….

Combs smelled of alcohol, and she was unable to pass the standard battery of field sobriety tests. Combs refused to undergo a breath test. Although she was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI), the Surry County District Court tossed the criminal case because the officer violated the Constitution in stopping her illegally. The North Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), however, was unwilling to let Combs off the hook. It revoked her driver’s license based solely on the illicitly obtained evidence. The DMV argued that the exclusionary rule does not apply to a civil proceeding. Combs argued that this was unfair. The trial judge told the DMV it could not base its action on illegal evidence, but the appellate court disagreed.

"Combs’s argument poses a fair question: how can law enforcement use evidence that was suppressed because of a Fourth Amendment violation to later revoke her driver’s license?" Court of Appeals Judge Richard Dietz asked. "The answer, according to several published decisions of this court, is that the exclusionary rule — a bedrock principle of criminal law — does not apply to license revocation proceedings."…

And so goes the slow death of the Constitution…

Thanks to Joe.

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The acronyms DUI, DWI, OMVI and OVI all refer to the same thing: operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol or drugs. The most commonly used terms are DUI, an acronym for Driving Under the Influence, and DWI, an acronym for Driving While Impaired.
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