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State v. Wagner

June 1, 2010


Appeal from the District Court of the Fourth Judicial District, State of Idaho, Ada County. Hon. Cheri C. Copsey, District Judge. Hon. Theresa Gardunia, Magistrate.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gratton, Judge

2010 Opinion No. 39

Order on intermediate appeal affirming the suspension of driver's license, affirmed.

Michael Howard Wagner appeals the suspension of his driver's license, pursuant to Idaho Code § 18-8002, due to his refusal to submit to a breath test. We affirm.


Officer Hale observed a car swerving and initiated a traffic stop of Wagner's vehicle. Wagner admitted to drinking alcohol. Officer Hale administered field sobriety tests, which Wagner failed. Wagner was transported to the police station where Officer Hale gave Wagner the license suspension warning and asked him to take a breath test. Wagner refused the breath test. Wagner informed Officer Hale that he would be willing to have his blood drawn. After numerous attempts, the phlebotomist was unable to find a vein that would produce blood. Officer Hale again requested Wagner to perform a breath test, and Wagner again refused. Officer Hale seized Wagner's license for refusing requested evidentiary testing. After conducting a hearing, the magistrate sustained the license suspension. On appeal, the district court affirmed the magistrate. Wagner appeals.


On review of a decision of the district court, rendered in its appellate capacity, we review the decision of the district court directly. Losser v. Bradstreet, 145 Idaho 670, 672, 183 P.3d 758, 760 (2008); State v. DeWitt, 145 Idaho 709, 711, 184 P.3d 215, 217 (Ct. App. 2008). We examine the magistrate record to determine whether there is substantial and competent evidence to support the magistrate's findings of fact and whether the magistrate's conclusions of law follow from those findings. Id. If those findings are so supported and the conclusions follow therefrom and if the district court affirmed the magistrate's decision, we affirm the district court's decision as a matter of procedure. Id. An appellate court may affirm a lower court's decision on a legal theory different from the one applied by that court. In re Estate of Bagley, 117 Idaho 1091, 1093, 793 P.2d 1263, 1265 (Ct. App. 1990).

Review of a suspension of a driver's license under I.C. § 18-8002 presents a mixed question of law and fact. In re Goerig, 121 Idaho 26, 28, 822 P.2d 545, 548 (Ct. App. 1991). This Court will defer to findings of fact supported by substantial evidence but will freely review conclusions of law and their application to the findings of fact. Id. Accordingly, we will uphold the magistrate's factual findings unless clearly erroneous. Id. However, whether a driver's actions are deemed to be a refusal, within the meaning of I.C. § 18-8002, is a question of law over which we exercise free review. In re Cummings, 118 Idaho 800, 802-03, 800 P.2d 687, 689-90 (Ct. App. 1990).


Drivers suspected of being under the influence of an intoxicant are obligated to take a test at an officer's request or lose their license. Idaho Code § 18-8002(1) states:

Any person who drives or is in actual physical control of a motor vehicle in this state shall be deemed to have given his consent to evidentiary testing for concentration of alcohol as defined in section 18-8004, Idaho Code, . . . provided that such testing is administered at the request of a peace officer having reasonable grounds to believe that person has been driving or in actual physical control of a motor vehicle in violation of the provisions of section 18-8004, Idaho Code, or section 18-8006, Idaho Code.

In that circumstance, the driver will be warned by the officer of the consequences of not submitting to or failing to complete the evidentiary test. I.C. § 18-8002(3). A driver that "refuses to submit to or complete evidentiary testing" is subject to license suspension. I.C. § 18-8002(4). The driver may request a hearing for the return of the license on the limited issue of why the driver "did not submit to, or complete, evidentiary testing." I.C. § 18-8002(4)(b). If the driver fails to timely request a hearing or does not prevail at the hearing, the license will be suspended for one year. I.C. § 18-8002(4)(b)-(c).

To prevail, the driver "must establish cause of a sufficient magnitude that it may be fairly said that a suspension of his license would be unjust or inequitable." In re Griffiths, 113 Idaho 364, 372, 744 P.2d 92, 100 (1987). It is solely the officer's choice as to which type of test to administer, id. at 370, 744 P.2d at 98, and a driver can request additional testing at his own expense after submitting to the requested test. I.C. ยง 18-8002(4)(e). A driver's lack of trust in the accuracy of a test is insufficient cause to justify refusing the requested test. Cummings, 118 Idaho at 803, 800 P.2d at 690 (driver refused a breath test because he ...

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