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Appellate Court Holds That Fourth Amendment Does Not Apply to License Revocation Hearings

Earlier this month, a North Carolina appellate court held that the Fourth Amendment does not apply in driver’s license revocation hearings, “even if those proceedings could be viewed as quasi-criminal in nature.”In 2013, Myra Lynne Combs was stopped by North Carolina police without reasonable suspicion in violation of the Fourth Amendment. The arresting officer received an anonymous call regarding a possible drunk driver weaving in a blue Ford Explorer on Highway U.S. 52. The officer proceeded to U.S. 52 and observed a vehicle matching the caller’s description. The officer and a backup officer followed the suspect, but they did not observe any erratic driving aside from a “slight cross of the center” line of the roadway, which was unpainted. After the driver pulled into a driveway, the officers initiated a traffic stop.

The first officer approached Combs’ car. There, he detected a strong odor of alcohol and observed that Combs’s eyes were bloodshot. He proceeded to administer several field sobriety tests. Her performance, including swaying during the one-leg test, suggested intoxication. The officer  asked Combs to take a breath test, and she refused. He arrested her and took her to the police station, where she again refused to take a breath test. She was charged with driving while impaired.

In Combs’ DUI case, the court suppressed all evidence gathered from the stop pursuant to the Fourth Amendment exclusionary rule. This rule dictates that evidence obtained from a stop lacking reasonable suspicion cannot be used against the defendant in a criminal proceeding. Without the evidence, the charges were dismissed.

The DMV nonetheless proceeded to revoke Combs’ license because she refused to take a breath test. The test for license revocation under the state’s implied consent laws is whether the officer has “reasonable grounds” to believe that the suspect was impaired. Combs challenged the revocation on the grounds that the officer did not meet this test. She argued that the DMV cannot use evidence derived from an unconstitutional stop. The county superior court judge agreed, and the DMV appealed.

A three-judge appellate panel reinstated the DMV’s revocation. The court explained that under several North Carolina decisions, “the exclusionary rule — a bedrock principle of criminal law — does not apply to license revocation hearings.” Unable to rely on the exclusionary rule, the court affirmed the DMV’s revocation of Combs’ driver’s license. There was sufficient evidence obtained during the stop from which the officers could find reasonable grounds that Combs was impaired while driving. Thus, the DMV could lawfully revoke her license.

Other states are divided on whether evidence excluded in criminal proceedings pursuant to the Fourth Amendment may be used in related civil proceedings. The highest courts in North Dakota, Maine, and Missouri take North Carolina’s position, while the State Supreme Courts in Vermont, Minnesota, and Oregon have held that evidence gathered from unconstitutional searches or seizures cannot be used in license revocation proceedings. Illinois courts have not ruled on the issue.

If you have been charged with a DUI crime in Illinois, it is crucial to speak to an experienced Illinois DUI lawyer as soon as possible. Harvatin Law Offices, PC provides knowledgeable representation for those in Springfield and throughout Illinois. We have considerable experience defending individuals charged with DUI offenses. To learn more and to set up a free initial consultation, contact us online or call us at 217.525.0520.

More Blog Posts:

Illinois Appellate Court Reverses Defendant’s DUI Based on Officer’s Fourth Amendment Violation, Illinois DUI Lawyer Blawg, February 13, 2015

Illinois Bar Association Seeks to Amend DUI Laws, Illinois DUI Lawyer Blawg, January 7, 2015

Illinois Appellate Court Reverses Felony DUI Based on Judge’s Improper Response to Deliberating Jurors, Illinois DUI Lawyer Blawg, December 2, 2014

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