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Jeannene J. Smith v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania

March 21, 2012

JEANNENE J. SMITH
v.
COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION, BUREAU OF DRIVER LICENSING, APPELLANT



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Bernard L. McGINLEY, Judge

Submitted: December 30, 2011

BEFORE: HONORABLE BERNARD L. McGINLEY, Judge HONORABLE ROBERT SIMPSON, Judge HONORABLE ROCHELLE S. FRIEDMAN, Senior Judge

OPINION BY JUDGE McGINLEY

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Department of Transportation, Bureau of Driver Licensing (DOT) challenges the order of the Court of Common Pleas of Northampton County (trial court) that granted Jeannene J. Smith‟s (Smith) appeal from an order of DOT which required Smith to install an ignition interlock system.

On March 31, 2010, Smith was arrested and charged with DUI. The police were called to the area of 2420 Sycamore Street to a rear alley in Wilson Borough, Northampton County, after reports of a vehicle striking a garage. Smith failed field sobriety tests. Her blood alcohol content was .35. On May 19, 2010, Smith was again arrested and charged with DUI. Police responded to a call from a woman who reported that a silver Lexus with a female driver struck her car on Lehigh Street in Easton, Pennsylvania. Police stopped Smith. She again failed field sobriety tests. Her blood alcohol content was .26.

On November 4, 2010, Smith appeared before the Court of Common Pleas of Northampton County, Criminal Division (criminal court) and pled guilty to both charges. The criminal court accepted the guilty pleas and deferred sentencing until December 16, 2010. Notes of Testimony, November 4, 2010, at 6-8, and 14-15; Reproduced Record (R.R.) at 59a-61a, and 67a-68a.

On December 17, 2010, the criminal court sentenced Smith to a term of three days to six months with credit for five days of inpatient rehabilitation and fined her $1,000 plus costs for the March 31, 2010, infraction. Smith also had to perform ten hours of community service, undergo an evaluation, and attend an alcohol highway safety program. That same day, the criminal court issued the same sentence for the second infraction to be served consecutively to the first.

By notice dated January 27, 2011, DOT advised Smith that her driving privilege was suspended for one year effective March 3, 2011, as a result of her conviction for violating Section 3802(c) of the Vehicle Code, 75 Pa. C.S. §3802(c), on March 31, 2010. Also, by separate notice dated January 27, 2011, DOT advised Smith that her driving privilege was suspended for one year effective March 3, 2012, as a result of her conviction for violating Section 3802(c) of the Vehicle Code, 75 Pa.C.S. §3802(c), on May 19, 2010. The notice also informed Smith that prior to the restoration of her driving privilege, she had to install an ignition interlock system in her vehicle(s).

Smith did not appeal the suspensions of her driving privilege. She did appeal the requirement that she install the ignition interlock system on her vehicle(s) to the trial court.

On May 12, 2011, the trial court held a de novo hearing. Smith introduced the transcript of the criminal court hearing and the certified copies of the sentences. DOT introduced a certified copy of Smith‟s driving record. DOT argued that Smith was convicted of the first DUI before the second, even though both convictions were on the same date, so that Smith came under the ignition interlock requirement. DOT phrased the argument as "whether or not when someone pleads guilty simultaneously, is it a first and second or can it be treated simultaneously as first offenses." Notes of Testimony, May 12, 2011, at 11; R.R. at 31a.

By order dated June 24, 2011, the trial court granted Smith‟s appeal.

The trial court reasoned:

DOT may require the Ignition Interlock System as a condition of issuing a license "[i]f a person violates section 3802 (relating to driving under influence of alcohol or controlled substance) and, within the past ten years, has a prior offense as defined in section 3806(a) (relating to prior offenses).‟ 75 Pa.C.S.A. §3805(a) (emphasis added). . . .

When the language of a statute is clear, this Court is required to apply its plain meaning. . . . The General Assembly used the term "violates‟ in Section 3805(a) of the Vehicle Code . . . . The term "violates‟ refers to "the date on which the offense took place.‟. . . In this case, the violation for which DOT seeks to impose the Ignition Interlock System took place on May 19, 2010. Thus, in applying Section 3805(a), DOT only had ...


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