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Stuart v. Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division III

March 8, 2017

THOMAS ELLIS STUART APPELLANT
v.
ARKANSAS DEPARTMENT OF FINANCE AND ADMINISTRATION, LARRY WALTHER, DIRECTOR APPELLEE

         APPEAL FROM THE DREW COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT [NO. CV-2015-96-4] HONORABLE DON GLOVER, JUDGE

          John F. Gibson, Jr., for appellant.

          David W. Parker, Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration, Office of Revenue Legal Counsel, for appellee.

          BRANDON J. HARRISON, Judge.

         Thomas Stuart appeals from the circuit court's order affirming the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration's Office of Driver Services' (DFA) decision to suspend his commercial driving privileges for one year and his noncommercial driving privileges for six months. He argues that the police officer did not have reasonable grounds for initiating a traffic stop and that the statement-of-rights form did not adequately inform him of the consequences of refusing a chemical test. We affirm.

         On 19 July 2015, Stuart was arrested and charged with driving while intoxicated (DWI) and refusal to submit to chemical test. As a result, Stuart's driver's license was suspended, and his commercial driver's license (CDL) was disqualified. He requested an administrative hearing to contest the suspension, and DFA conducted a hearing on 6 August 2015. The written summary from that hearing found as follows:

THIS CONTESTED HEARING WITH LICENSEE AND ATTORNEY IS BEING HELD TO CONTEST PROBABLE CAUSE. PROBABLE CAUSE IS NOT AN ISSUE TO BE DETERMINED BY THIS HEARING OFFICER. WE FIND AGAINST THE LICENSEE AND SUSTAIN THE SUSPENSION. CDL DISQUALIFIED 08-18-15 TO 08-18-16 FOR DUI ALCOHOL/REFUSED TEST. NON COMMERICAL SUSPENSION 08-18-15 TO 02-18-16.

         Stuart timely sought de novo review by the Drew County Circuit Court.

         On 4 December 2015, Stuart filed a motion to suppress evidence obtained as a result of the traffic stop, which he argued was made without probable cause or reasonable suspicion. DFA responded and first argued that while Arkansas had not addressed the issue, the majority of jurisdictions have held that the exclusionary rule does not apply to administrative or civil driver's-license-suspension proceedings. DFA also argued that Ark. Code Ann. § 5-65-402 (Supp. 2013) limits the scope of an administrative proceeding or circuit court de novo appeal and does not authorize a petitioner to argue constitutional issues, so Stuart should not be allowed to raise constitutional claims or request suppression of the evidence. And finally, DFA asserted that Stuart's argument was barred by collateral estoppel and res judicata because he had "previously litigated the same issues of the officer lacking probable cause resulting in an illegal traffic stop at Petitioner's corresponding criminal trial for the charges of DWI and Refusal to Submit." Alternatively, if the circuit court did find that the exclusionary ruled applied, DFA argued that the traffic stop was supported by reasonable suspicion that Stuart had violated a traffic law.

         The circuit court held a hearing on 16 December 2015. Stuart clarified that he was challenging both the probable cause to arrest him for DWI and whether he had been properly advised or warned that he would lose his driving privileges if he refused to submit to a chemical test. Stuart also explained that his criminal case was still ongoing in circuit court. DFA reiterated that this was a civil case and that probable cause was not under review. Stuart countered that the case was "quasi-criminal" due to the punitive nature of his driving privileges being suspended.

         Officer James Slaughter, a patrol officer with the Monticello Police Department, testified that on 19 July 2015, he was traveling north on Highway 425 and was behind Stuart's vehicle. Slaughter said that they stopped at a red light at the intersection of Highways 425 and 278; that after the light turned green, Stuart proceeded through the intersection; and that Stuart momentarily drove his vehicle into the southbound turning lane before veering back into his lane. Because of that, Slaughter stopped Stuart for careless and prohibited driving. Slaughter approached Stuart's vehicle, spoke to him, and could smell alcohol on his breath; Stuart admitted having had a beer several hours earlier. Slaughter asked Stuart to perform several field-sobriety tests, the results of which indicated to Slaughter that Stuart was intoxicated. Slaughter also administered a preliminary breath test (PBT), which indicated a .15 blood-alcohol content.

         Slaughter arrested Stuart for DWI and transported him to the county detention facility. Slaughter then read to Stuart the DWI statement-of-rights form and asked Stuart if he understood it. Stuart said yes and initialed and signed the form. Slaughter next asked Stuart if he would submit to a breath test, and Stuart said no and also initialed the "no" answer on the form. According to Slaughter, Stuart said that he knew what the PBT result was and that "he was not going to blow because he did not want to lose his CDLs." Stuart was subsequently booked for DWI and refusal to submit.

         On cross-examination, Slaughter confirmed that he read the following sections from the statement-of-rights form to Stuart:

If you refuse to take a chemical test, none will be given, but you will subject yourself to the penalties provided by law, which includes, but is not limited to, the suspension or revocation of your driving privileges, and if you are a commercial driver's license ...

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