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Martin v. Kansas Dep't of Revenue

February 1, 2008

THOMAS J.G. MARTIN, APPELLEE,
v.
KANSAS DEPARTMENT OF REVENUE, APPELLANT.



Review of the judgment of the Court of Appeals in 36 Kan. App. 2d 561, 142 P.3d 735 (2006). Appeal from Johnson district court; KEVIN P. MORIARTY, judge. Judgment of the Court of Appeals reversing the district court is affirmed. Judgment of the district court is reversed.

SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

1. Issues of statutory and constitutional interpretation raise pure questions of law subject to unlimited appellate review.

2. K.S.A. 8-1020(h)(2)(A)-(H) is clear and unambiguous; and its list of issues that may be decided in an administrative driver's license suspension hearing is exclusive.

3. K.S.A. 8-1020(h)(2)(A)'s "reasonable grounds to believe" a driver is under the influence and "reasonable suspicion" sufficient for a traffic stop under constitutional law are distinct legal concepts.

4. In the peculiar context of alcohol- and/or drug-related driver's license suspensions, delaying full argument and decision of a particular aspect of a case--preventing its pursuit at the administrative level and deferring it to later court appeal--does not run afoul of due process. In particular, the exclusion of Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and § 15 of the Kansas Constitution Bill of Rights issues from the Department of Revenue decision in administrative hearings under K.S.A. 8-1020(h)(2)(A)-(H) does not violate procedural due process.

5. The rule that a constitutional issue cannot be decided by an administrative agency does not necessarily preclude a driver from raising such an issue in that forum.

6. The implications of the Fourth Amendment and § 15 of the Kansas Constitution Bill of Rights transcend the boundary of civil or administrative proceedings on the one hand and criminal proceedings on the other because those provisions delineate rights that attach to individuals in either circumstance.

7. The reasonableness of an officer's suspicion is based on the totality of circumstances and is viewed from the perspective of those versed in law enforcement. An officer's mistake of law alone may invalidate a traffic stop under the Fourth Amendment and § 15 of the Kansas Constitution Bill of Rights.

8. The exclusionary rule is a judicially created remedy, designed to deter the government from engaging in unconstitutional conduct. The United States Supreme Court has held the rule applicable only where its deterrence benefits outweigh its substantial social costs. The balance outlined by the United States Supreme Court between the benefits and costs of application of the exclusionary rule, when employed in driver's license suspension proceedings, tips in favor of the Department of Revenue and against Martin and other drivers. The deterrent effect of the rule is already accomplished in the criminal arena. Any additional deterrent effect on law enforcement violation of the Fourth Amendment and § 15 to be gleaned from extension of the rule beyond the criminal DUI setting would be minimal, and it cannot outweigh the remedial imperative of preventing alcohol- and/or drug-impaired drivers from injury or killing themselves or others.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Beier, J.

This case addresses whether, when, and to what effect a Kansas driver may contest an alcohol- and/or drug-based administrative license suspension arising out of a law enforcement traffic stop allegedly violating the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and § 15 of the Kansas Constitution Bill of rights.

Factual and Procedural Background

This case began when plaintiff Thomas J.G. Martin was pulled over by Officer Christopher Wilson of the Prairie Village Police Department in August 2002. The parties have stipulated that Martin was under the influence at the time, but there had been nothing about Martin's driving that alerted the officer to this fact. Rather, Wilson stopped Martin because of a malfunctioning rear brake light. At the time, Wilson believed the malfunctioning light to be in violation of the law, even though two other rear brake lights on Martin's vehicle were working.

After the stop, Wilson became suspicious that Martin had been drinking. Martin failed field sobriety tests, refused a preliminary breath test, and later failed a chemical breath test at the police station. The chemical breath test result led Kansas Department of Revenue (Department) to suspend Martin's driver's license. Notes from Martin's administrative hearing on the suspension show that Martin attempted unsuccessfully to argue the unconstitutionality of the traffic stop before the Department.

Martin sought review in the district court, where the judge reversed the license suspension, holding that Wilson misinterpreted the law governing brake lights and that this misinterpretation meant he lacked reasonable suspicion to initiate Martin's stop.

A panel of our Court of Appeals overturned the district court decision, agreeing with the Department that the propriety of a traffic stop is irrelevant in a driver's license suspension hearing. Martin v. Kansas Dept. of Revenue, 36 Kan. App. 2d 561, 567, 142 P.3d 735 (2006). The panel focused on the fundamental differences between such an administrative proceeding and a criminal prosecution, noting in particular that the purpose of the former is remedial and the latter, punishment. 36 Kan. App. 2d at 564-65 (citing Huelsman v. Kansas Dept. of Revenue, 267 Kan. 456, 457, 980 P.2d 1022 [1999]; Meehan v. Kansas Dept. of Revenue, 25 Kan. App. 2d 183, 188, 959 P.2d 940, rev. denied 265 Kan. 885 [1998]).

The panel then turned to the language of K.S.A. 8-1020(h)(2), evaluating it "[a]against this backdrop." 36 Kan. App. 2d at 565. This portion of the statute reads:

"If the officer certifies that the person failed a breath test, the scope of the hearing shall be limited to whether:

(A) A law enforcement officer had reasonable grounds to believe the person was operating a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or both, or had been driving a commercial motor vehicle, as defined in K.S.A. 8-2,128, and amendments thereto, while having alcohol or other drugs in such person's system;

(B) the person was in custody or arrested for an alcohol or drug related offense or was involved in a vehicle accident or collision resulting in property damage, personal injury or death;

(C) a law enforcement officer had presented the person with the oral and written notice required by K.S.A. 8-1001, and amendments thereto;

(D) the testing equipment used was certified by the Kansas department of health and environment;

(E) the person who operated the testing equipment was certified by the Kansas department of health and environment;

(F) the testing procedures used substantially complied with the procedures set out by the Kansas department of health and environment;

(G) the test result determined that the person had an alcohol concentration of .08 or greater in such person's breath; and

(H) the person was operating or attempting to operate a vehicle." K.S.A. 8-1020(h)(2).

The panel concluded that this list clearly and unambiguously expresses the legislature's intention to limit the issues that can be raised at an administrative license suspension hearing. Had the legislature intended to allow a more expansive inquiry before the Department, it would have said so. 36 Kan. App. 2d at 565-66.

The panel also rejected Martin's constitutional challenge to its reading of the statute, because driving is not a right but a privilege; and administrative suspension of a driver's license for the holder's failure of a chemical breath test, to which every driver gives implied consent, is supported by government's legitimate promotion of public health, safety, and welfare. 36 Kan. App. 2d at 566. In support of this holding, the panel noted several cases from other jurisdictions. 36 Kan. App. 2d at 566-67 (citing Tornabene v. Bonine ex rel. Highway Dept., 203 Ariz. 326, 333, 54 P.3d 355 [Ct. App. 2002]; Powell v. Secretary of State, 614 A.2d 1303, 1305-06 [Me. 1992]; Beavers v. State Dept. of Mtr. Vehicles, 109 Nev. 435, 438, 851 P.2d 432, cert. denied 510 U.S. 946 [1993]).

This court granted Martin's petition for review. To resolve this case, after reference to our standard of review, it is necessary for us to address whether the Department is permitted to decide the merits of a driver's constitutional challenge in an administrative hearing on license suspension; whether, even if a decision by the Department is precluded in an administrative setting, a driver may raise such a claim there; whether the limitations on searches and seizures of the Fourth Amendment and § 15 of the Kansas Constitution Bill of Rights are implicated when the driver's license suspension rather than criminal sanction is at issue; and whether a meritorious constitutional challenge to an underlying traffic stop requires a district court to apply the exclusionary rule and reverse license suspension.

Standard of Review

Although generally an appellate court applies a substantial competent evidence standard of review when examining a district court's ruling in a driver's license suspension case, see Schoen v. Kansas Dept. of Revenue, 31 Kan. App. 2d 820, Syl. ¶ 1, 74 P.3d 588 (2003), the issues before us here require statutory and constitutional interpretation. These raise pure questions of law subject to unlimited review. See, e.g., Johnson v. Brooks ...


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