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State Supreme Court Upholds DUI Ruling That Could Let Some Oklahoma Drivers Keep Their Licenses

Attorney John Hunsucker stands next to a breath testing machine.
Brent Fuchs
The Journal Record
Attorney John Hunsucker stands next to a breath testing machine.

A court decision earlier this week might keep the state from revoking thousands of driver’s licenses.

Monday's ruling means the outcome of a breathalyzer test that leads to criminal charges can't be used to take away someone's driving privileges, The Journal Record’s Dale Denwalt reports:

In a 7-2 ruling, the Oklahoma Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal by the Department of Public Safety in a case originally brought by Eric Sample, who was arrested on a DUI charge almost three years ago. After conducting a breath test, the arresting officer initiated revocation proceedings and Sample lost his license to drive. Sample’s attorney argued that when DPS revoked the license, the agency did not cite valid rules adopted by the Board of Tests for Alcohol and Drug Influence. Both the Oklahoma County District Court and Court of Civil Appeals agreed, leading to a request for hearing before the Supreme Court. . . . Attorney John Hunsucker, whose legal group represented Sample, said the Board of Tests improperly approved the device used to determine breath alcohol concentration. The board had given itself the authority to approve a part of the device through resolution instead of agency rule. It also delegated authority to Director J. Kevin Behrens for selection of a mouthpiece that would be used.

The agency will consider emergency rules to fix the problem soon, but there could be thousands drivers who were arrested for DUI and have been waiting to see if the state revokes their licenses.

Revocation is a civil matter handled separately from criminal charges. Drivers get a hearing at the Department of Public Safety, but a backlog at DPS has left some people waiting for more than a year to even schedule a hearing. It’s too early to say what exactly will happen, but Hunsucker told The Journal Record he has 300 clients waiting on the decision that came down Monday.

Hunsucker said he will look into whether more litigation could force the Sample decision to be applied retroactively, which could invalidate almost a decade of revocations. When DPS yanks a driver’s license on the first offense, the revocation lasts 180 days. Some DUI charges can require the installation of a device, called an ignition interlock, to prevent someone from starting a car after drinking alcohol. Multiple offenses let DPS revoke a license and require an interlock device for years. The appellate decision is a published opinion, which means it can be used as a precedent in other cases.

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Brian Hardzinski is from Flower Mound, Texas and a graduate of the University of Oklahoma. He began his career at KGOU as a student intern, joining KGOU full time in 2009 as Operations and Public Service Announcement Director. He began regularly hosting Morning Edition in 2014, and became the station's first Digital News Editor in 2015-16. Brian’s work at KGOU has been honored by Public Radio News Directors Incorporated (PRNDI), the Oklahoma Association of Broadcasters, the Oklahoma Associated Press Broadcasters, and local and regional chapters of the Society of Professional Journalists. Brian enjoys competing in triathlons, distance running, playing tennis, and entertaining his rambunctious Boston Terrier, Bucky.
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