The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

State, national, world

October 12, 2013

Oklahoma court ruling could affect DUI revocations

TULSA, Okla. — An Oklahoma appeals court has ruled in six cases that documents used by the Department of Public Safety to revoke driver's licenses following DUI breath tests did not comply with state law, raising questions about thousands of past cases.

The Court of Civil Appeals rulings state the Department of Public Safety was told of the problem in a 1990 case. In that case, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled that the agency's license-revocation documentation was "fatally flawed."

A former DPS attorney also warned the board that oversees the blood-alcohol tests about the problem several years ago, said attorney John Hunsucker, who filed several of the appeals.

"It's definitely a can of worms that could have been fixed many years ago," Hunsucker said.

State law requires blood-alcohol test reports to include "a sworn report from a law enforcement officer that the officer had reasonable grounds to believe the arrested person" drove or could have driven a car under the influence of alcohol.

Oklahoma Highway Patrol Capt. George Brown, a spokesman for DPS, said the document in question — the affidavit signed by the arresting officer — has been in use for eight years.

The Court of Civil Appeals rulings ordered lower courts to dismiss license revocations against two people from Tulsa County and one person from Cleveland County.

The appeals court also affirmed rulings by an Oklahoma County judge dismissing license revocations in three other cases. In those cases, the lower court judge found that the documents DPS relied upon were deficient.

The appeals court rulings state that driver's licenses were improperly revoked in cases where the affidavits that accompanied the blood-alcohol test reports did not comply with the wording in state law. The blood-alcohol tests are performed after an alleged drunken-driving arrest and are evidence in the criminal case as well as the license-revocation hearing, which is a separate process.

The rulings have no effect on the plaintiffs' criminal cases.

Brown said the Department of Public Safety "firmly believes Oklahoma law and prior court decisions will uphold the legal sufficiency of the current affidavit and support its continued use. The department does intend to ask the Oklahoma Supreme Court to review the recent decisions of the Court of Civil Appeals in that regard.

More than 40,000 people requested hearings regarding license revocations following DUI arrests from January 2008 through December 2012, DPS records show.

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Information from: Tulsa World

 

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