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CDL License of Driver Properly Suspended for Refusing Breathalyzer

Hill v. Motor Vehicle Administration
No. 82 (Md. App. 2010)

By Kevin M. Cox, Associate
Semmes, Bowen & Semmes (www.semmes.com)

Plaintiff James E. Hill, the holder of a commercial driver’s license (“CDL”), was detained by an officer of the Charles County Sheriff’s Department on suspicion of drunk driving. During the traffic stop, Mr. Hill was advised of his right to refuse to take a breathalyzer test and of the sanctions that would be imposed against him if he either failed or refused. One of the potential penalties for failing or refusing to submit to the test included a one-year disqualification of his CDL. Mr. Hill refused the test and was subjected to an administrative hearing in order to determine the sanctions that would be imposed against him.

At the administrative hearing, Mr. Hill argued that he had not been fully advised of his rights, as required by due process and by MD. CODE ANN., TRANSP. § 16-205.1, because the advisement (form DR-15) incorrectly misled him into believing that he could retain his CDL through participation in an Interlock Ignition System Program even if he refused to submit to the test. The Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) found that Mr. Hill had been properly advised of his rights and imposed the mandatory one-year CDL disqualification. Mr. Hill sought judicial review of the ALJ’s decision in the Circuit Court for Charles County, which affirmed the decision. Mr. Hill then appealed to the Court of Special Appeals.

The Court of Special Appeals noted that due process requires only that the State not unduly burden a detained driver’s decision making process in determining whether to submit to a breathalyzer test. Likewise, MD. CODE ANN., TRANSP. § 16-205.1 requires that a detained driver be fully advised of applicable sanctions as a prerequisite for imposing any suspension. Neither due process nor the governing statute requires that a driver be warned of every potential sanction that could apply if the test is refused. The Court found that the DR-15 form used by the Motor Vehicle Administration (“MVA”) in the traffic stop clearly advised Mr. Hill that his CDL would be disqualified if he refused the test, and that participation in the Interlock Ignition System Program was limited to non-commercial driving privileges. The court found that this bifurcated approach to the sanctions framework is completely within the discretion of the General Assembly.

Thus, the Court of Special Appeals held that Mr. Hill’s due process rights were not violated during his traffic stop because the information conveyed to him and the DR-15 form used by the MVA was not misleading, and did not obstruct his ability to make an informed decision about whether to refuse a breathalyzer test. The court also held that the DR-15 form fully advised Mr. Hill of the applicable sanctions under the Transportation Article, and thus satisfied the statutory requirements for imposing a suspension on him.


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