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Kozieniak v. Commonwealth, Department of Transportation

Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania

September 4, 2014

Michael A. Kozieniak
v.
Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Department of Transportation, Bureau of Driver Licensing, Appellant

Submitted July 11, 2014

Terrance M. Edwards, Assistant Counsel, Harrisburg, for Appellant.

John M. O'Connell, Jr., Greensburg, for Appellee.

BEFORE: HONORABLE BERNARD L. McGINLEY, Judge, HONORABLE MARY HANNAH LEAVITT, Judge, HONORABLE P. KEVIN BROBSON, Judge. OPINION BY JUDGE LEAVITT.

OPINION

Page 327

MARY HANNAH LEAVITT, Judge

The Department of Transportation, Bureau of Driver Licensing (PennDOT), appeals an order of the Court of Common Pleas of Westmoreland County (trial court) reversing the one-year disqualification of Michael A. Kozieniak's (Licensee) commercial driver's license pursuant to Section 1611(a)(1) of the Vehicle Code, 75 Pa. C.S. § 1611(a)(1). PennDOT contends that the trial court erred in holding that PennDOT's disqualification of Licensee to operate commercial vehicles was penal in nature and imposed upon him without adequate due process. We reverse.

Background

Licensee has held a commercial driver's license (CDL) since June 24, 1991, and has been professionally driving trucks for over forty years. He currently works as a truck driver in Pittsburgh. On December 29, 2012, Licensee violated Section 3802(b) of the Vehicle Code, 75 Pa. C.S. § 3802(b), by driving with a " [h]igh rate of alcohol" in his system, i.e., an alcohol concentration between 0.10% and 0.16%. At the time of this violation, Licensee was driving his personal vehicle. Licensee applied for and was accepted into Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD). By notice dated May 28, 2013, PennDOT informed Licensee that, as a result of his acceptance of ARD, it was imposing a one-year disqualification of his CDL under authority of Section 1611(a) of the Vehicle Code, 75 Pa. C.S. § 1611(a).[1]

Page 328

Licensee filed a statutory appeal, and a de novo hearing was held by the trial court on September 30, 2013. Licensee argued that his one-year CDL disqualification was improper because his acceptance of ARD meant he was never actually convicted of a DUI offense. PennDOT offered into evidence, without objection, documents showing that it notified Licensee of a 30-day suspension of his driving privileges, with a one-year disqualification of his CDL.[2] PennDOT then rested. Licensee testified without cross-examination by PennDOT.

The trial court found that because PennDOT's one-year CDL disqualification was penal in nature, Licensee was entitled to the " full panoply of due process." Trial Court Opinion at 3. The trial court further found that, because Licensee had been accepted into ARD instead of going to trial for his Vehicle Code violation, Licensee did not receive the process due to him for a CDL disqualification. The trial judge explained that

there has never been a true conviction to which these proceedings can be collateral and the penalty aspect of disqualification results without any prior notice or meaningful hearing on the licensee's guilt or innocence.

Id. at 4. The trial court sustained Licensee's appeal, and PennDOT appealed to this Court.

On appeal,[3] PennDOT raises three assignments of error. First, PennDOT contends that the trial court erred in finding that Licensee was entitled to notice that his acceptance into ARD could result in a loss of his CDL. Second, PennDOT argues that the trial court erred in finding that its one-year disqualification of Licensee's commercial driving privilege was penal in nature. Third, PennDOT argues that the trial court erred in finding Licensee was denied due process in both the criminal proceeding and the statutory license suspension appeal.

I. Notice of Consequence of ARD

PennDOT first argues that the trial court erred in finding that Licensee was denied due process because he was never informed that his acceptance into ARD could cause him to lose his CDL. PennDOT contends that Licensee's argument is a collateral attack on Licensee's acceptance into ARD, which should not have been allowed by the trial court.

There is no requirement in the Vehicle Code that PennDOT must advise a licensee entering ARD that his commercial driving privilege may be suspended. See 75 Pa. C.S. § 1603, 1611(a). In Commonwealth v. Duffey, 536 Pa. 436, 639 A.2d 1174 (Pa. 1994), a licensee appealed the 90-day suspension of his driver's license on the grounds that he did not knowingly and intelligently consent to the suspension when he entered into his plea agreement. In evaluating the licensee's argument, our Supreme Court stated:

We would suggest to our legislature that it should be clearly stated on the citation, if it is not already, that a guilty plea to the offense of underage drinking ...

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