Presenting a Baffling Traffic Abstract Without an Explanation Violates Due Process
Wolcott v. Administrative Director of the Courts, State of Hawai'i (HSC December 21, 2020)
Background. Justin Wolcott was arrested for operating a vehicle while under the influence of an intoxicant. Wolcott refused to submit his blood or breath for chemical testing to determine his blood-alcohol concentration. Because he refused, the police informed of the following:
If you refuse to take any tests and your record to operate a vehicle shows three or more prior alcohol or drug enforcement contacts during the ten years preceding the date the notice of administrative revocation was issued, your license and privilege to operate a vehicle will be revoked for ten years.
Wolcott was informed that an “alcohol enforcement contact” meant any revocation order, a conviction for OUI in Hawai'i or any other jurisdiction. Wolcott signed the acknowledgement.
Weeks later the Administrative Driver’s License Revocation Office conducted a review of the case and revoked Wolcott’s license for ten years. Wolcott requested an administrative hearing. At the hearing, Wolcott asked the hearings officer to explain why the revocation was for ten years. Wolcott had two prior alcohol enforcement contacts in Hawai'i, but could not find the third one that triggered the ten-year revocation.
The hearings officer cited a traffic abstract showing two additional contacts. Apparently, the abstract revealed two prior contacts from Oregon. Wolcott moved to strike the abstract because it was not a sworn statement and there was no foundational evidence. The hearings officer denied the motion and affirmed the ten-year revocation. Wolcott appealed to the district court and the ICA, both of which affirmed.
Due Process Requires an Explanation for the Traffic Abstract. “A driver’s license is a constitutionally protected interest and due process must be provided before one can be deprived of his or her license.” Slupecki v. Admin. Dir. of the Courts, 110 Hawai'i 407, 413, 133 P.3d 1199, 1205 (2006). While Due Process “is flexible and calls for such procedural protections as the particular situation demands[,]” Kernan v. Tanaka, 75 Haw. 1, 22, 856 P.2d 1207, 1218 (1993), “procedural due process requires that a person have an opportunity to be heard at a meaningful time and in a meaningful manner.” Freitas v. Admin. Dir. of the Courts, 108 Hawai'i 31, 44, 116 P.3d 673, 686 (2005). No hearing complies with Due Process, however, “when the party does not know what evidence is offered or considered, and is not given an opportunity to test, explain, or refute.” Interstate Commerce Comm’n v. Louisville & N.R. Co., 227 U.S. 88, 93 (1913).
The HSC held that providing Wolcott with the traffic abstract and no explanation of its source or how to read it does not comport with Due Process. The HSC noted that the abstract is difficult to comprehend. The ten-page abstract contains multiple charges, citations, and dates that appear to be irrelevant. From those ten pages these are the two Oregon alcohol enforcement contacts that were operative against Wolcott:
CONVIC-ST: OR CIT-DATE: 02/27/2005 ß-------- (Citation)
OFFENSE: A21 DUI ALCOHOL DTL: CONV-DATE: 05/22/2007
. . . .
CONVIC-ST: OR CIT-DATE: 06/18/2006 ß--------- (Citation)
OFFENSE: A20 DUI ALC/DRUG DTL: CONV-DATE: 09/11/2006
The HSC agreed with Wolcott that the abstract is indeed “confusing to say the least.” Moreover, nothing in the abstract indicates where it came from. The hearings officer noted in his written decision affirming the revocation that the abstract came from the national Problem Driver Pointer System. According to the HSC, the “confusing and coded information in the PDPS Abstract and the failure of the hearing officer to explain to Wolcott the source of the information and how to decipher it” violated Wolcott’s procedural Due Process rights.
The Remedy is not a new Hearing, but Reduction of the Revocation Period. When a hearing officer improperly considers an alcohol enforcement contact, the appropriate remedy is reverse the additional revocation period. Custer v. Admin. Dir. of the Courts, 108 Hawai'i 350, 120 P.3d 249 (2005). The HSC held that instead of ten years, there should be only four. And with that the HSC vacated and remanded the judgment to shorten the revocation period.