Monday, November 5, 2007
Cuz I'm a (Quasi-)Criminal: Utah Supreme Court to Consider Whether Exclusionary Rule Applies to License Revocation Hearings
Just after midnight on July 1, 2005, an officer of the Salt Lake City Police Motorcycle Squad pulled over Curtis J. Beller based upon his suspicion that the motorcycle violated, inter alia, an ordinance prohibiting the replacement of stock mufflers although he had neither equipment to measure the motorcycle's sound nor familiarity with the original make of Beller's motorcycle. After pulling Beller over, the officer concluded that he was driving while under the influence of alcohol. In the criminal trial against Beller, the judge concluded that the officer's search of Beller violated his Fourth Amendment rights and thus excluded the evidence that Beller was driving while under the influence of alcohol under the exclusionary rule.
Nonetheless, the Utah Driver License Division proceeded with a driver's license revocation hearing against Beller and used the officer's finding that Beller was under the influence of alcohol in revoking Beller's license. Beller has now appealed to the Supreme Court of Utah, claiming that pursuant to the exclusionary rule, this evidence should have been excluded to the same degree that it was excluded in his criminal trial.
As the main support for this argument, Beller has cited to Supreme Court of Utah's opinion in Sims v. Collection Div. of Utah State Tax Com'n, 841 P.2d 6 (Utah 1992). In Sims, a driver was stopped at an unconstitutional roadblock, and officers discovered marijuana and cocaine in his vehicle. See id. at 7. In addition to criminal charges being brought against the driver, "civil" charges were brought against him before the Utah State Tax Commission pursuant to an Act under which drivers must, inter alia, pay a tax when they transport illegal drugs into Utah. See id. At this hearing, the drugs found in Sims' car at the roadblock were admitted against him pursuant to the general rule that the exclusionary rule does not apply in civil proceedings. See id.
On appeal, however, Sims argued that the drugs should have been inadmissible because the charges brought against him were "quasi-criminal." Id. at 11. The Supreme Court of Utah agreed, finding, inter alia, (1) that the Act was similar to criminal law in its objectives and (2) that enforcement of the Act was inextricably connected with proof of criminal activity. See id. at 13-14.
I haven't seen a subsequent Utah case where this logic has either been applied or found inapplicable in license revocation hearings, and the case law appears all over the board. For instance, in In re Corey P., 697 N.W.2d 647, 654 (Neb. 2005), the Supreme Court of Nebraska found that the exclusionary rule does not apply to license revocation hearings because (1) they are civil and nonpunitive, (2) application of the rule would do little to deter police misconduct, and (3) any deterrent value would be outweighed by public health and safety concerns.
Meanwhile, in Hartman v. State of Alaska, Dept. of Admin., Div. of Motor Vehicles, 152 P.3d 1118 (Alaska 2007), the Supreme Court of Alaska stated the same general rule as the Supreme Court of Nebraska but noted that application of the exclusionary rule might be mandated in cases where a Fourth Amendment violation stems from lack of probable cause for a DUI arrest. Finally, in Piotrowski v. Commissioner of Public Safety, 453 N.W.2d 689 (Minn. 1990), the Supreme Court of Minnesota, relying upon a decision of the Supreme Court of Rhode Island, found that the exclusionary rule applies to license revocation hearings because in substance and effect they are quasi-criminal in that their objective is to penalize the driver for the commission of an offense against the law.
When I look at the logic of the Sims case, it seems as if the Supreme Court of Utah should follow the Supreme Court of Minnesota and the Supreme Court of Rhode Island. License revocation hearings have similar objectives to criminal drunk driving laws in that both seek to punish and deter drunk driving. Also, the revocation of Beller's license was inextricably connected with proof that he drove while under the influence. We'll have to wait and see, though, which line of cases the court decides to follow.