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COMMONWEALTH PENNSYLVANIA v. ALBERT S. RINEHART (02/16/88)

COMMONWEALTH COURT OF PENNSYLVANIA


decided: February 16, 1988.

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION, BUREAU OF DRIVER LICENSING, APPELLANT
v.
ALBERT S. RINEHART, APPELLEE

Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County, in case of Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Albert S. Rinehart, No. SA 498, dated November 20, 1985.

COUNSEL

Harold H. Cramer, Assistant Counsel, with him, Spencer A. Manthorpe, Chief Counsel, and Henry G. Barr, General Counsel, for appellant.

No appearance for appellee.

Judges Craig and Palladino, and Senior Judge Barbieri, sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by Judge Palladino.

Author: Palladino

[ 113 Pa. Commw. Page 453]

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, Bureau of Driver Licensing (DOT) appeals a decision of the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County (trial court), reinstating the operating privileges of Albert A. Rinehart (Rinehart). For the reasons set forth below, we reverse.

On December 13, 1984, Rinehart was convicted of violating section 1543(a) of the Vehicle Code, 75 Pa. C. S. § 1543(a) (driving while operating privilege is suspended or revoked). On March 3, 1985, DOT notified Rinehart that as a result of his conviction his driving

[ 113 Pa. Commw. Page 454]

    privileges were being revoked for six months effective April 19, 1985, pursuant to section 1543(c) of the Vehicle Code.*fn1

Rinehart appealed this conviction to the trial court pursuant to section 1550(a) of the Vehicle Code, 75 Pa. C. S. § 1550(a).*fn2 At trial, DOT presented evidence of Rinehart's conviction for driving with a suspended license. Rinehart did not dispute the fact that he had been convicted, but testified that he was driving with a suspended license because he had to take his son to the hospital. On the basis of this testimony, the trial court concluded that Rinehart's driving with a suspended license was "non-volitional and therefore outside the scope of the statute prohibiting operating a motor vehicle . . . while his operating privileges were suspended. . . ."*fn3 The trial court thus sustained Rinehart's appeal and reinstated his operating privileges.

On appeal to this court,*fn4 DOT contends that the trial court erred as a matter of law in permitting Rinehart to collaterally attack his conviction. We agree.

[ 113 Pa. Commw. Page 455]

In a license revocation appeal, the trial court's scope of review is limited to a determination of whether the motorist was convicted and whether DOT acted in accordance with the statute. Department of Transportation, Bureau of Traffic Safety v. Edwards, 103 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 43, 519 A.2d 1083 (1987). The trial court cannot consider facts and circumstances surrounding the conviction because the relevant inquiry is whether the motorist was convicted, not whether he should have been convicted. Id. at 1084. The license suspension appeal being civil in nature cannot be used to attack the underlying criminal conviction. Department of Transportation, Bureau of Traffic Safety v. Calloway, 60 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 647, 432 A.2d 322 (1981); Department of Transportation, Bureau of Traffic Safety v. Grobes, 45 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 151, 405 A.2d 588 (1979).

We also note that section 1543(c) of the Vehicle Code, 75 Pa. C. S. § 1543(c), mandates DOT to revoke the motorist's operating privilege upon receiving a certified record of the conviction. Thus, the merit of the conviction is not for DOT or the courts to decide. Commonwealth v. Virnelson, 212 Pa. Superior Ct. 359, 243 A.2d 464 (1968).

In this case, Rinehart did not dispute the fact that he had been convicted of violating § 1543(a) of the Vehicle Code. Once the fact of the conviction was established, the trial court had no reason to consider the circumstances surrounding the conviction.

Accordingly, the order of the trial court is reversed and the revocation of operating privileges issued by DOT is reinstated.

[ 113 Pa. Commw. Page 456]

Order

And now, February 16, 1988, the order of the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County is reversed and the order of the Department of Transportation, Bureau of Traffic Safety, revoking Albert S. Rinehart's operating privileges for 6 months is reinstated.

Disposition

Reversed.


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