Agency Backlogs Do Not Excuse Delays
The Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals has had a lot to say this year about drivers’ lengthy waits for license revocation hearings after arrests for driving under the influence in Oklahoma. When the dust settles, hundreds or even thousands of Oklahoma DUI suspects could have their licenses reinstated.
In three out of four cases decided so far in 2016, the court concluded long delays before Dept. of Public Safety drivers license revocation hearings deprived motorists of a right to a speedy trial. In the fourth case, the court concluded seven months was not too long to wait before learning if a drivers license would be revoked.
The latest decision settled 23 companion cases in which drivers had waited between 13 and 19 months to learn if their drivers license would be suspended after an Oklahoma DUI arrest. The two other appeals court decisions earlier this year found that delays of 11-and-a-half months, and 14 month before revocation hearings were too long.
What is a Speedy Trial in Oklahoma?
All of the cases hinge on Oklahoma’s constitutional guarantee of a speedy trial. The question is, how speedy? Oklahoma statutes set thresholds beyond which courts must review potential speedy trial violations in criminal cases. Even those laws leave discretion to courts. Speedy trial questions in some civil matters can be even more ambiguous.
DUI arrests typically involve criminal and civil courts alike. A criminal court determines guilt and sets penalties, while a civil court reviews administrative decisions to revoke driving privileges. Drivers license revocation, however, is a civil matter. The question goes to the civil appeals courts because there is no bright line rule that says how long is too long to wait for an administrative court decision on license revocation.
In none of the DUI license revocation cases decided so far has the civil appeals court offered any such bright-line rule about how long DPS can keep hearings on hold. The four 2016 decisions only indicate 7 months might not be too long, but 11 months probably is too long.
DPS cited a large number of requests for hearings, along with a limited number of hearing officers and staff as the reason so many drivers had to wait so long to learn if their driving privileges would be revoked after a DUI arrest. Oklahoma Department of Public Safety reportedly plans to appeal the latest decision to the Oklahoma Supreme Court.
The cases involve primarily motorists arrested on first-time DUI charges. As a matter of law, those drivers’ license are automatically revoked 30 days after blood or breath tests reveal unlawful amounts of blood alcohol – unless a driver requests an administrative hearing. Drivers have until 15 days after they receive notice of an impending revocation to request a hearing or approval for a modified license that requires use of a breathalzyer ignition interlock device.
The appeals court dismissed DPS arguments that the length of delays could be counted only after drivers receive notification of their pending revocation. However long it might eventually be allowed to run, a speedy trial clock starts on the day a driver requests a hearing – even the day after a DUI arrest, according to 2014 Oklahoma Supreme Court decision
Some Oklahoma DUI attorneys advise drivers to request a hearingd immediately after a DUI arrest. Drivers who request a hearing retain their driving privileges until the hearing is held. The sooner a driver requests a hearing, the sooner DPS might be obligated to either hold a hearing or let the motorist keep a drivers license.
A Drivers License is a Property Interest
In the 2014 Oklahoma Supreme Court case that guided the appeals court’s latest speedy trial — Pierce v State ex re Dept. of Pub. Safety, 2014 OK 37 — the court decided a delay of longer than 19 months was too long. Yet, as is the case with much speedy trial law, the Pierce court declined to set an absolute deadline before which a trial must be held.
Instead, the Pierce decision set out a four-pronged test by which lower courts could determine if a person has been deprived of a right to speedy trial in drivers license revocations. Those four factors include:
1) the length of the delay; 2) the reason for the delay; 3) the party’s assertion of the right; and 4) the prejudice to the party occasioned by the delay.
Driving privileges are a property interest that cannot be taken without due process of law, the Pierce court stated. Drivers suffer prejudice when they are subject to an inordinate delay of almost a year or more to learn the status of that property interest.
In the August, 2016 Court of Civil Appeals Division III decision, two judges disagreed with the presumption that some delays are inherently prejudicial. Their arguments could portend DPS approach to an appeal at the Oklahoma Supreme Court.
In a concurring opinion, Judge William Hetherington alluded to reasons DPS would delay hearings. Reasons for a delay inform the second prong of the Pierce court’s four-part speedy trial test.
Absent a deliberate motive for the State’s delays, a court should find “direct” evidence that the delay was prejudicial before finding a speedy trial violation, Hetherington opined. Direct evidence could include impacts on a drivers employment options, or witnesses’ faulty memory after so much time.
Although Hetherington concurred with the majority decision, and suggested a delay of almost two years might be inherently prejudicial, he suggested a speedy trial violation in shorter delays might require stronger evidence of prejudice arising from a delay or a showing of a deliberate delay.
Dissenting Judge: What Prejudice?
Judge Larry Joplin agreed with Hetherington’s argument that direct evidence of prejudice could be required when state delays are not deliberate, apparently with somewhat stronger conviction. Siding with DPS’s administrative judges, he dissented from the majority’s affirmation of a district court ruling against DPS.
Hetherington’s exception notwithstanding, the majority stated that some long delays are per se prejudicial. The State’s strong interest in keeping drunken drivers off of Oklahoma highways, and its apparent budgetary constraints that cause backlogs in hearing schedules do not override drivers’ constitutional right to a speedy trial.
An Oklahoma City newspaper, The Oklahoman, reported that law enforcement agencies in 2015 filed 21,391 affidavits notifying DPS of drunken driving arrests. Drivers requested hearings in 13,144 of those instances. DPS set only 3,064 hearings in 2015.
After a drivers license is revoked at an administrative hearing, drivers have an opportunity to appeal the decision in a county court. Before the latest appellate ruling, many Oklahoma county courts had already been reinstating driving privileges for motorists charged with DUI who had waited more than a year before DPS revoked their drivers license.
The latest decision increases the likelihood that lower courts will return licenses revoked more than a year after a DUI arrest. DPS could even decide to cancel hearings and forgo efforts to revoke drivers licenses from motorists who waited so long for a hearing, especially if a district court would likely reinstate the license.
What About the Intoxilyzer 8000?
Another case pending in Oklahoma courts casts doubt on the merits of breathalyzer tests used to justify drivers license revocations. Eric Sample v. State, (2015 OK Civ App __) The case calls into question the viability of Intoxilyzer 8000 breathalyzer machines, which are the current generation of breath test machines used in Oklahoma.
In November, 2015, the Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals affirmed a district court opinion that effectively overturned administrative rules for calibrating breathalyzers in use by police agencies statewide. DPS has asked the Oklahoma Supreme Court to review the appellate decision.
“[I]f upheld, this decision will have far reaching consequences” Director of Tests Keven Behrens wrote in a Jan. 5 2016 memo.
The memo urged police agencies to “prepare your case as if you will not have a breath test result at trial.”
The Sample challenge to Intoxilyzer 8000 results arose from the same kind of drivers license hearing for which DPS is now facing speedy trial scrutiny. The DPS argues hearings are delayed by budgetary constraints and the sheer number of drivers requesting hearings.
It is worth noting that the outcome of so many hearings could depend on an eventual Oklahoma Supreme Court decision on breathalyzer rules. The delays also follow a 2014 Oklahoma Supreme Court decision that found DPS “did not meet its threshold burden of proving all the facts necessary to sustain the revocation” of a drivers license when it relied on Intoxilyzer 8000 breathalyzer results. Muratore v. State ex rel. Dept. of Public Safety, 2014 OK 3
Free Consultation: Tulsa DUI Attorney
If you have been waiting nearly a year or more to learn if your drivers license will be revoked after a DUI arrest in Tulsa, contact a Tulsa DUI attorney. A timely appeal could result in restoration of your driving privileges, but you have only a limited time to appeal.
Likewise, if you have been arrested for DUI in Tulsa, you have only a limited time to request an administrative hearing. Get a Tulsa DUI lawyer on your side as soon as possible to be sure you do not miss an opportunity to protect your rights and your Oklahoma driving privileges.
If you have been waiting close to a year, or more, to find out if your drivers license will be revoked, contact a DUI attorney to find out if the delay could result in dismissal of revocation proceedings against you.
For a free consultation with a DUI attorney in Tulsa, Okla., contact a Wirth Law Office criminal defense lawyer at (918) 879–1681. You may also request a free consultation by filling out the form at the top of this page.