The Colorado Supreme Court heard a case involving the admissibility of evidence used in a hearing regarding a driver’s license revocation. The case of Brian Rowland v. The Department of Motor Vehicles challenged the court to interpret the state’s statute. The question is whether the law requires that evidence provided from third-party sources outside of law enforcement must be in the form of an affidavit and sworn to under oath. Rowland was stopped by police who said he was crossing the yellow lane markers and failing to maintain consistent and proper speed. The officer said he smelled alcohol and Rowland replied by saying that he had earlier consumed one beer, yet he was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol. Rowland was offered his choice of submitting to a breath or blood test. After choosing the blood test, a technician drew a blood sample from him amid officer supervision. The sample was then delivered to a private lab for testing that determined his blood alcohol level was .158, almost double the .08 threshold that represents impairment.
Rowland chose to appeal a district court’s confirmation that his driver’s license should be revoked. The statute requires the officer to present an affidavit that indicates the lab test results. After making a request for one, Rowland was granted a hearing where the hearing officer found Rowland to have violated the BAC level for driving, sustaining the revocation. Rowland challenged the ruling by claiming that the affidavit provided did not meet statutory requirements. He requested that the court’s order be reversed and his driver’s license be reinstated. The ruling was affirmed because the test results could have been admissible by simply obtaining officer testimony about them.
In Rowland’s opinion, the report provided by the non-law enforcement entity failed to comply; therefore, the evidence of his BAC should be inadmissible. The question was: May a hearing officer consider evidence provided by a third-party that was not compliant? In these hearings, all relevant evidence is considered, including evidence submitted in affidavit form, as long as it contains the address, phone number, and date. In addition, the document is to be signed and sworn under the penalty of perjury. Reports from law enforcement do not require that the officer be placed under oath; however, the officer that generates it must be identified and contact information must be provided
The court explained that the goal in interpreting statutes is to determine the original intent of the legislature. The statute’s purpose was to protect against possible errors in driving revocation hearings. The court found that evidence from third-party (not law enforcement) sources must be in the proper format for admission as evidence in hearings. The BAC report in question did not meet this requirement, which is why Rowland felt the BAC information was inadmissible. A higher court may only reverse revocations under these circumstances:
- The department overstepped its authority under the state’s statutes or constitution;
- The provision contained in the law was misinterpreted;
- The hearing was executed in a manner that was uninformed or erratic in nature; or
- The ultimate determination made was not properly supported by evidence.
The court explained that blood testing which is conducted in a way that was compliant with the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment’s rules and guidelines is deemed reliable, which was the case in this blood test. The officer did oversee the EMT during the blood draw, the EMT confirmed the collection was in accordance with the law, and evidence provided at the hearing showed the proper chain of custody. Rowland’s assertion that the report data was inadmissible according to the statute was incorrect. Hearing officers may obtain these results through the officer’s testimony and/or affidavit. It is unknown if the hearing officer relied exclusively on the BAC report data in rendering a decision. The court remanded the case back to the hearing officer to make the determination and proceed.