Jans v. State, Dep't of Pub. Safety, 090821 SDSC, 29471-a-SRJ

CourtSupreme Court of South Dakota
JudgeKERN, SALTER, DEVANEY, and MYREN, Justices, concur.
Writing for the CourtJENSEN, CHIEF JUSTICE
PartiesBRIAN JAMES JANS, Appellant, v. STATE OF SOUTH DAKOTA, THE DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC SAFETY, Appellee.
Docket Number29471-a-SRJ

2021 S.D. 51

BRIAN JAMES JANS, Appellant,

v.

STATE OF SOUTH DAKOTA, THE DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC SAFETY, Appellee.

No. 29471-a-SRJ

Supreme Court of South Dakota

September 8, 2021

CONSIDERED ON BRIEFS MAY 25, 2021

APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE SECOND JUDICIAL CIRCUIT MINNEHAHA COUNTY, SOUTH DAKOTA THE HONORABLE JON SOGN Judge

RICHARD L. JOHNSON Sioux Falls, South Dakota Attorney for appellant.

JASON R. RAVNSBORG Attorney General

EDWARD S. HRUSKA III Special Assistant Attorney General Pierre, South Dakota Attorneys for appellee.

OPINION

JENSEN, CHIEF JUSTICE

[¶1.] The Department of Public Safety (Department) disqualified Brian James Jans' commercial driver's license (CDL) for one year after he pleaded guilty to driving under the influence (DUI) and received a suspended imposition of sentence. Jans appeals, arguing the Department's decision violated the doctrine of the separation of powers under article II of the State Constitution by unconstitutionally infringing upon the judiciary's sentencing authority. He also argues the Department no longer had the statutory authority to disqualify his CDL once his case was dismissed and discharged under SDCL 23A-27-14. We affirm.

Facts and Procedural History

[¶2.] On April 29, 2016, Jans was arrested for first offense DUI pursuant to SDCL 32-23-2. The sentencing court imposed a suspended imposition of sentence after he pleaded guilty on June 16, 2016. The conditions of the sentence required Jans to obtain a chemical dependency assessment and have no alcohol-related offenses for three years. The Department did not take any action to disqualify Jans' CDL immediately after sentencing. After Jans successfully completed the conditions of his sentence, he was formally discharged by the court, and the record of his DUI was sealed on or prior to August 19, 2019.

[¶3.] On August 29, 2019, the Department sent Jans notice that his CDL would be disqualified for one year. Jans requested a hearing on the proposed disqualification, and an administrative hearing was held before the Office of Hearing Examiners on October 4, 2019. Both parties were represented by counsel. Kerry Schrank, the senior secretary at the Department, testified. Jans also testified at the hearing.

[¶4.] Schrank explained that when a defendant enters a guilty plea to a DUI charge and a court imposes a suspended imposition of sentence, the Department receives a record of the criminal case the day after sentencing. Then, the Department disqualifies the defendant's CDL for one year under SDCL 32-12A-36(1).1 Due to a staff oversight, the Department did not disqualify Jans' CDL when it first received notice of his DUI sentence in 2016 and instead moved to disqualify Jans' CDL in 2019, after the Department received notice that his DUI conviction had been sealed. Schrank had no knowledge of the underlying circumstances of the offense. However, she claimed the Department had statutory authority to disqualify a license holder's CDL when the qualifying offense occurred within the last four years. See SDCL 32-12A-32.2

[¶5.] Jans testified that he had held a CDL since 2012, drove a commercial vehicle for his job at a trucking company, and would lose his employment if his CDL was disqualified. Jans also stated he was driving a noncommercial vehicle when he was arrested. Jans conceded that he had pleaded guilty to DUI and received a suspended imposition of sentence but stated he had no other criminal convictions. The order memorializing Jans' 2016 guilty plea and imposing a suspended imposition of sentence was introduced at the hearing.

[¶6.] Jans argued the disqualification of his CDL would violate article V, § 5 of the South Dakota Constitution, which grants courts the exclusive authority to suspend "imposition or execution of a sentence." He argued the statutes authorizing the Department to disqualify a CDL when a court has ordered a suspended imposition of sentence violate the separation of powers doctrine in article II of the South Dakota Constitution. Further, Jans maintained that, even if the Department had authority to disqualify his CDL privileges at the time of sentencing in 2016, the Department could no longer do so once his case had been discharged and dismissed under SDCL 23A-27-14; and the record of the offense was sealed pursuant to SDCL 23A-27-17. Upon discharge, he claimed he was no longer "convicted" within the meaning of SDCL 32-12A-36(1).

[¶7.] The administrative law judge (ALJ) found Jans was convicted of DUI in violation of SDCL 32-23-1 and had received a suspended imposition of sentence. As such, the ALJ determined SDCL 32-12A-32(1) and SDCL 32-12A-36(1) required the Department to disqualify Jans' CDL. Further, the ALJ determined that failure to disqualify Jans' CDL would violate SDCL 32-12A-64, which provides the State "may not mask, defer imposition of judgment, or permit any person to enter into a diversion program that would prevent a commercial learner's permit or commercial driver license holder's conviction for any violation, in any type of motor vehicle . . . ." The ALJ concluded that "if Jans was allowed to plead guilty to a DUI and then retain his CDL because of a suspended imposition of sentence, this would be a diversion program" in violation of SDCL 32-12A-64.

[¶8.] On December 5, 2019, the Department issued a final order affirming the decision of the ALJ. Jans appealed to the circuit court. The parties stipulated to a court order staying the disqualification until the appeal was resolved. In its memorandum opinion, the circuit court noted that this Court has recognized the Department's authority to disqualify noncommercial driver's license holders under SDCL 32-12-52.1, even when a court has failed to do so in underlying criminal proceedings. See Matter of Revocation of Driver License of Fischer, 395 N.W.2d 598, 603 (S.D. 1986). Further, it determined a suspended imposition of sentence imposed after a guilty plea was a "conviction" as provided in SDCL 32-12A-1(7)3, and that the Department had authority for four years after the offense was committed to disqualify Jans' CDL. The court issued an order affirming the Department's decision on October 13, 2020.

[¶9.] Jans appeals to this Court and argues: (1) SDCL chapter 32-12A infringes upon the judiciary's power under article V, § 5 of the South Dakota Constitution and thus violates the separation of powers doctrine in article II of the South Dakota Constitution; and (2) the Department lacked statutory authority to disqualify his CDL after his case had been discharged and dismissed under SDCL 23A-27-14 and sealed pursuant to SDCL 23A-27-17.

Analysis and Decision

[¶10.] "Our review of agency decisions is the same as the review made by the circuit court. We perform that review of the agency's findings unaided by any presumption that the circuit court's decision was correct." In re Jarman, 2015 S.D. 8, ¶ 8, 860 N.W.2d 1, 5 (internal citations omitted). We "give great weight to the findings made and inferences drawn by an agency on questions of fact. We reverse only when those findings are clearly erroneous in light of the entire record." Id. We review de novo "[i]ssues of statutory and constitutional interpretation . . . ." Matter

of Cleopatra Cameron Gift Tr., Dated May 26, 1998, 2019 S.D. 35, ¶ 17, 931 N.W.2d 244, 249.

1. Whether SDCL chapter 32-12A infringes upon the judiciary's power under article V, § 5 of the South Dakota Constitution and thus violates the separation of powers doctrine in article II of the South Dakota Constitution.

[¶11.] South Dakota Constitution article V, § 5 states: "[i]mposition or execution of a sentence may be suspended by the court empowered to impose the sentence unless otherwise provided by law." Article II of the South Dakota Constitution "explicitly states the separation of powers doctrine and encompasses three prohibitions: (1) no branch may encroach on the powers of another, (2) no branch may delegate to another branch its essential constitutionally...

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