We are often asked how the arresting officer is authorized to take a persons’ license under the ALS suspension, and whether or not this is constitutional. The dilemma presented by Ohio DUI Law is this: If I am innocent until proven guilty, how can they punish me by immediately taking my license when I am accused of DUI? This site takes the position that the current law is unconstitutional. But before we jump into the argument, it is important to understand how the current law works.
If you are stopped for an OVI, DUI or drunk driving and you refuse to take a chemical test (breath, blood or urine), or if your test results exceed the legal limit of Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC), the police officer can and will take your driver’s license on the spot causing your drivers license to be suspended immediately. This pre-conviction suspension is called the ADMINISTRATIVE LICENSE SUSPENSION. The ALS suspension is a suspension imposed by the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles and not a suspension imposed by the court, but a penalty imposed under civil/administrative law. For constitutional purposes, the entirety of the ALS scheme depends on the penalty being construed as a civil penalty.
Dept. of Revenue of Mont. v. Kurth Ranch
The United States Supreme Court has addressed a very similar distinction between a civil penalty and a criminal penalty in Department of Revenue of Mont. v. Kurth Ranch, 511 U.S. 767 (1994). In this case, the Defendant was both tried for selling marijuana — and then charged civilly for a failure to pay a tax on that marijuana. The Supreme Court held that it was a violation of the Constitutional prohibition against Double Jeopardy: The fact that one proceeding was criminal and the other civil did not matter, the Court said, as long as they both involved the same offense and both were intended as punishment.
United States v. Halper
The Kurth Ranch decision upheld a previous ruling in United States v. Halper, 490 US 435 (1989) the United State Supreme Court addressed a civil penalty being used as a punishment. In this case, Irwin Halper, the manager of a company that provided medical services to patients eligible for Medicare benefits, was charged and convicted in criminal court of submitting 65 separate false Medicare claims. He was sentenced to two years in prison and fined $5,000. This was the criminal penalty.
The United States then brought additional civil charges under the False Claims Act, which authorized it to collect $2000 for each offense in addition to attorney’s fees and twice the damages sustained. In this case the actual damages were just $585, but because of the number of offenses the total penalty was more than $130,000. The District Court, however, ruled that the penalty was “entirely unrelated” to the government’s actual damages and would therefore be a second punishment for the same offense, violating the Double Jeopardy Clause of the Fifth Amendment. The penalty was therefore limited to double the amount of actual damages and attorney’s fees. The government appealed the decision directly to the U.S. Supreme Court. Quoted from Oyez HERE.
Justice Harry Blackmun, on behalf of a unanimous Supreme Court, wrote that while previous cases had held penalties under the Act to be civil in nature, that did not foreclose the possibility of the penalty being so extreme and so unrelated to the actual damages as to constitute “punishment.” Because Halper had already been jailed and fined, additional punishment in a separate proceeding would violate the Double Jeopardy Clause of the Fifth Amendment. The Court remanded the case to the District Court so that the government could challenge the original assessment of its attorney’s fees.
So: The ALS Suspension Is Unconstitutional, Right?
These cases have repeatedly been cited in DUI cases as authority for the proposition that the State cannot both criminally prosecute for driving with over .08% blood alcohol and civilly suspend the individual’s driver’s license for the same offense. Although there have been federal court decisions taking this position, to date state courts have not accepted this reasoning and the U.S. Supreme Court has not addressed the issue in a drunk driving context.
As regular readers of this blog know, I am always looking for a way to change the most harsh and unreasonable aspects of DUI law that hurt innocent people. There is no “penalty” more severe than immediately losing your license and having to scramble to arrange to put your life back together. I hope to be in a position to challenge the constitutionality of the Ohio ALS scheme.
Charles M. Rowland II dedicates his practice to defending the accused drunk driver in the Miami Valley and throughout Ohio. He has the credentials and the experience to win your case and has made himself Dayton’s choice for drunk driving defense. Contact Charles Rowland by phone at (937) 318-1384 or toll-free at 1-888-ROWLAND (888-769-5263). If you need assistance after hours, call the 24/7 DUI Hotline at (937) 776-2671. You can have DaytonDUI at your fingertips by downloading the DaytonDUI Android App or have DaytonDUI sent directly to your mobile device by texting DaytonDUI (one word) to 50500. Follow DaytonDUI on Facebook, @DaytonDUI on Twitter, YouTube, Tumblr, Pheed and Pintrest or get RSS of the Ohio DUI blog. You can email CharlesRowland@DaytonDUI.com or visit his office at 2190 Gateway Dr., Fairborn, Ohio 45324.
“All I do is DUI defense.”