State wins Dept. of Revenue DWI suspension/revocation case

A recent decision by the Missouri Eastern District Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the Department of Revenue holding that a judge misapplied the law when it made a credibility determination on uncontested evidence after the judge admitted the Department’s records for limited purpose under Section 302.312 RSMo.

The case centered around a state trooper who was never successfully served after several attempts to get him to testify regarding his actions surrounding a DWI stop.

The Court reasoned that because the Trooper was equally available to both parties and never served valid process, the Defendant’s right to due process of law was not violated and the trial court lacked authority to impose a sanction or remedy for non-attendance of a witness without a determination that witness was duly summoned and served a validly executed subpoena to appear before the trial court.  

 The Missouri Department of Revenue had appealed the judgment of the trial court in favor of the Defendant after hearing his Petition for Trial De Novo Of License Suspension/Revocation.

The Defendant’s license had been suspended after his arrest during a traffic stop by a Missouri State Highway Patrol Trooper for driving while intoxicated on January 9, 2016.  After multiple continuances attempting to compel by Missouri subpoena the presence of the Trooper, who had since become an FBI agent on traveling assignment, hearing was held; the only evidence received was the Department’s records related to the stop, submitted under Section 302.312 RSMo.  However, due to the non-attendance at trial of the trooper, the trial court found in favor of Ridgway, sua sponte raising a due process violation for Ridgway’s inability to cross-examine the witness against him and finding the Trooper lacked credibility.

The Department raised the following three points on appeal:

Point I, the Department argued the trial court erred in raising, sua sponte, a due process issue related to Ridgway’s inability to cross examine the Trooper.

Point II, the Department argued the trial court misapplied the law in finding the inability to cross-examine the Trooper violated Ridgway’s right to due process of law.

Point III, the Department argued the trial court misapplied the law when it admitted the Department’s records submitted under Section 302.312 RSMo for a limited purpose, when the plain language of the statute requires their admission into evidence. 

 The lower court’s decision was reversed and remanded. The opinion was by Philip M. Hess, with the following concurring: Robert G. Dowd, Jr., and Mary K. Hoff.  Attorney for Appellant was Daniel N. McPherson and Attorney for Respondent was Travis L. Noble, Jr., with Magen D. Atzert, Co-counsel 

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