Understanding License Revocation and DWI Arrest Timelines

Ross v. Director of Revenue, No. SC90317

Can a driver’s license be revoked for refusing a breathalyzer test offered beyond the 90-minute window after a DWI arrest? This Missouri Supreme Court decision not only clarifies the timing of DWI arrests and subsequent license revocation, but also delves into the interpretation of Missouri’s implied consent laws.

The Supreme Court of Missouri reviewed the case where Natalie R. Ross appealed the revocation of her driver’s license following her refusal to submit to a breathalyzer test, which was offered more than 90 minutes after a police officer found her at an accident scene.

A police officer was dispatched to investigate a report of a woman standing on an interstate’s shoulder. Upon arrival, the officer observed scrape marks leading to a vehicle off the roadway. Inside, Natalie Ross was found in the passenger seat, and Ryan Newbury was across the rear seats. There was a strong odor of intoxicants, a marijuana pipe was seen, and Ross exhibited signs of intoxication. Ross denied walking on the interstate or driving the vehicle.

After observing evidence suggesting Ross was the driver, she was arrested for possession of drug paraphernalia and later for careless and imprudent driving. Due to the conditions, field sobriety tests were conducted at a detention facility, leading to her DWI arrest. Ross refused a breathalyzer test after being informed of the implied consent law.

Ross challenged her license revocation, arguing the breathalyzer refusal could not lead to revocation since her DWI arrest was beyond the 90-minute limit set by the warrant-less DWI arrest statute, Section 577.039. She contended this made her DWI arrest and subsequent breathalyzer refusal invalid for license revocation purposes.

The Supreme Court conducted a de novo review, emphasizing statutory clarity and legislative intent to protect the public. The Court distinguished between criminal penalties for DWI and civil procedures for license revocation, finding no requirement that the 90-minute limit applies to revocation proceedings. The Court noted that Ross’s arrests for other offenses related to the DWI provided sufficient grounds for revocation under the implied consent law.

The Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s judgment, upholding Ross’s license revocation. It highlighted that civil license revocation serves to protect the public by removing intoxicated drivers from the roads, irrespective of procedural protections in criminal law. The Court’s ruling supports the broader objective of the implied consent law and the distinction between the enforcement of criminal penalties and civil consequences for driving under the influence.