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COMMONWEALTH PENNSYLVANIA v. GRETTA MARIE HEETER (09/13/89)

COMMONWEALTH COURT OF PENNSYLVANIA


decided: September 13, 1989.

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION, BUREAU OF DRIVER LICENSING, APPELLANT,
v.
GRETTA MARIE HEETER, APPELLEE

Appeal from Common Pleas Court, Crawford County; Honorable P. Richard Thomas, President Judge.

COUNSEL

Harold H. Cramer, Asst. Chief Counsel, with him, John L. Heaton, Chief Counsel, for appellant.

No appearance for appellee.

Crumlish, Jr., President Judge, and Palladino (p.) and Smith, JJ.

Author: Palladino

[ 128 Pa. Commw. Page 481]

The Department of Transportation, Bureau of Driver Licensing (DOT) appeals an order of the Court of Common Pleas of Crawford County (trial court) which reversed DOT's suspension of the vehicle operating privileges of Gretta Marie Heeter (Appellee). For the reasons that follow, we reverse.

Appellee was cited on June 23, 1988 for violation of Section 6308 of the Crimes Code.*fn1 On June 27, 1988,

[ 128 Pa. Commw. Page 482]

Appellee pleaded guilty and paid the fine plus costs assessed for the offense. As a result of this conviction, pursuant to Section 6310.4 of the Crimes Code,*fn2 Appellee was notified on August 11, 1988 by DOT that her vehicle operating privileges were being suspended for a period of 90 days.

On appeal to the trial court, the Appellee argued that she had not knowingly or intentionally transported alcohol but that she was an innocent passenger in a car that had beer in the trunk. Also, Appellee argued that, because the law regarding license suspension was new and the district justice told her that he did not know any more about the new law than she did, her guilty plea was uninformed. The trial court sustained Appellee's appeal because "[n]either defendant nor the District Justice or Appellee was fully cognizant of the ramifications of said plea due to the enactment of the suspension legislation less than a month previous to the event."*fn3

It is clear that in a license suspension appeal the only issues are whether the licensee was in fact convicted

[ 128 Pa. Commw. Page 483]

    and whether DOT has acted in accordance with applicable law. Department of Transportation, Bureau of Traffic Safety v. Valentine, 71 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 8, 453 A.2d 742 (1982). The underlying criminal conviction may not be challenged in a suspension appeal, which is civil in nature. Department of Transportation, Bureau of Traffic Safety v. Calloway, 60 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 647, 432 A.2d 322 (1981). When the motorist becomes aware that he is going to lose driving privileges as a result of paying a fine, his only remedy is to seek allowance of an appeal nunc pro tunc from that summary conviction. Department of Transportation, Bureau of Driver Licensing v. Ra, 109 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 279, 530 A.2d 1046 (1987).

Here, the trial court improperly examined the facts underlying Appellee's conviction. The record established that Appellee was convicted of violating Section 6308. Section 6310.4 mandates a 90 day license suspension and this was communicated to Appellee by mail on August 11, 1988. We conclude that DOT has acted in accordance with the law.

Accordingly, we reverse.

Order

AND NOW, September 13, 1989, the order of the Court of Common Pleas of Crawford County is reversed and the Department of Transportation's Order of a 90 day suspension of Gretta Marie Heeter's vehicle operating license is reinstated.

Disposition

Accordingly, we reverse.


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