SAN FRANCISCO – The California Supreme Court is reviewing lower court
opinions that conflict over when it’s OK to suspend the driver’s license
of a suspected drunken driver who refuses to submit to a breath or blood
At issue is a law allowing the one-year suspension of driver’s
licenses for suspected drunken drivers who decline to take a breath test
or allow their blood to be drawn.
Some lower courts have said the license can automatically be suspended
for refusing either of the tests. Other California courts have said the
police must have evidence that the person refusing the test was actually
driving the car while intoxicated.
The justices agreed in private Wednesday to hear the dispute, but set
no hearing date.
The case concerns a woman who says she was an alcoholic when a Belmont
police officer found her sleeping in her parked car on Jan. 2, 2003.
Police questioned her and said she was mumbling incoherently. She
declined to take a breath or blood test after failing a field sobriety
At a Department of Motor Vehicles administrative hearing, the woman
said she was not driving drunk but had several glasses of wine after she
parked the car. She said she had an uncontrollable urge to drink that
A San Mateo County judge overturned the DMV’s suspension of her
license because the police did not show the woman was actually driving
while drunk. An appeals court reinstated the suspension, saying that
requirement was not necessary.
The case is Troppman v. Gourley, S132496.
Troppman v. Gourley, 2005 Cal. App. LEXIS 196 Date: 2005
The arresting officer found the driver, who appeared to be
intoxicated, in the driver’s seat of a parked van with a wine bottle on
the floor. After the driver failed several field sobriety tests, she was
placed under arrest. She refused to submit to chemical testing. At the
license revocation hearing, the driver testified that she drank the wine
after parking the van and that she had consumed no alcohol before
driving. The administrative hearing officer suspended her license because
she had refused to submit to testing after an arrest for which there was
reasonable cause. The superior court granted driver ‘s writ because there
had been no finding by the hearing officer that she was actually driving.
However, the court of appeal held that a driver’s license could be
suspended for failing to submit to a chemical test without a finding of
actual driving. Because there was no requirement under Cal. Veh. Code ‘ ‘
13353, 23612 to prove that the driver was actually driving at or near the
time of her arrest, and because there was no dispute that the driver was
lawfully arrested and that the arresting officer had reasonable cause to
believe she had been driving. Thus, the appellate court ruled that the
superior court judge made a mistake in granting the driver = s petition
for writ, and agreed with the DMV hearing officer.
Court of Appeals(PDF Download)
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