Mackey v. Montrym

Decision Date25 June 1979
Docket NumberNo. 77-69,77-69
Citation443 U.S. 1,99 S.Ct. 2612,61 L.Ed.2d 321
PartiesAlan MACKEY, Registrar of Motor Vehicles of Massachusetts, Appellant, v. Donald E. MONTRYM, etc
CourtU.S. Supreme Court
Syllabus

A Massachusetts statute mandates suspension of a driver's license for refusing to take a breath-analysis test upon arrest for operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of intoxicating liquor. The Registrar of Motor Vehicles must order a 90-day suspension upon receipt of the police report of the licensee's refusal to take such test; the licensee, after surrendering his license, is entitled to an immediate hearing before the Registrar. Appellee, whose license was suspended under the statute, brought a class action in Federal District Court alleging that the Massachusetts statute was unconstitutional on its face and as applied in that it authorized the suspension of his license without affording him a presuspension hearing. The District Court held that appellee was entitled as a matter of due process to some sort of presuspension hearing, declared the statute unconstitutional on its face as violative of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, and granted injunctive relief.

Held : The Massachusetts statute is not void on its face as violative of the Due Process Clause. Cf. Dixon v. Love, 431 U.S. 105, 97 S.Ct. 1723, 52 L.Ed.2d 172. Pp. 2617-2621.

(a) Suspension of a driver's license for statutorily defined cause implicates a property interest protected by the Due Process Clause. Resolution of the question of what process is due to protect against an erroneous deprivation of a protectible property interest requires consideration of (i) the nature and weight of the private interest affected by the official action challenged; (ii) the risk of an erroneous deprivation of such interest as a consequence of the summary procedures used; and (iii) the governmental function involved and state interests served by such procedures, as well as the administrative and fiscal burdens, if any, that would result from the substitute procedures sought. Mathews v. Eldridge, 424 U.S. 319, 96 S.Ct. 893, 47 L.Ed.2d 18. Pp. 2617-2618.

(b) Here, neither the nature of the private interest involved—the licensee's interest in the continued possession and use of his license pending the outcome of the hearing due him—nor its weight compels a conclusion that the summary suspension procedures are unconstitutional, particularly in view of the postsuspension hearing immediately available and of the fact that the suspension is for a maximum of only 90 days. Pp. 2617-2618.

(c) Nor is the risk of error inherent in the presuspension procedure so substantial in itself as to require a departure from the "ordinary principle" that "something less than an evidentiary hearing is sufficient prior to adverse administrative action." Dixon v. Love, supra, 431 U.S., at 113, 97 S.Ct., at 1728. The risk of erroneous observation or deliberate misrepresentation by the reporting police officer of the facts forming the basis for the suspension is insubstantial. When there are disputed facts, the risk of error inherent in the statute's initial reliance on the reporting officer's representations is not so substantial in itself as to require the Commonwealth to stay its hand pending the outcome of any evidentiary hearing necessary to resolve questions of credibility or conflicts in the evidence. Pp. 2618-2620.

(d) Finally, the compelling interest in highway safety justifies Massachusetts in making a summary suspension effective pending the outcome of the available prompt postsuspension hearing. Such interest is substantially served by the summary suspension because (i) it acts as a deterrent to drunk driving; (ii) provides an inducement to take the breath-analysis test, permitting the Commonwealth to obtain a reliable form of evidence for use in subsequent criminal proceedings; and (iii) summarily removes from the road licensees arrested for drunk driving who refuse to take the test. Conversely, a presuspension hearing would substantially undermine the Commonwealth's interest in public safety by giving drivers an incentive to refuse the breath-analysis test and demand such a hearing as a dilatory tactic, which in turn would cause a sharp increase in the number of hearings sought and thus impose a substantial fiscal and administrative burden on the Commonwealth. Nor is it any answer to the Commonwealth's interest in public safety promoted by the summary sanction that such interest could be served as well in other ways. A state has the right to offer incentives for taking the breath-analysis test and, in exercising its police powers, is not required by the Due Process Clause to adopt an "all or nothing" approach to the acute safety hazard posed by drunk drivers. Pp. 2620-2621.

429 F.Supp. 393, reversed and remanded.

Mitchell J. Sikora, Jr., Boston, Mass., for appellant.

Robert W. Hagopian, Cambridge, Mass., for appellee.

Mr. Chief Justice BURGER delivered the opinion of the Court.

The question presented by this appeal is whether a Massachusetts statute that mandates suspension of a driver's license because of his refusal to take a breath-analysis test upon arrest for driving while under the influence of intoxicating liquor is void on its face as violative of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Commonly known as the implied consent law, the Massachusetts statute provides:

"Whoever operates a motor vehicle upon any [public] way . . . shall be deemed to have consented to submit to a chemical test or analysis of his breath in the event that he is arrested for operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of intoxicating liquor. . . . If the person arrested refuses to submit to such test or analysis, after having been informed that his license . . . to operate motor vehicles . . . in the commonwealth shall be suspended for a period of ninety days for such refusal, no such test or analysis shall be made, but the police officer before whom such refusal was made shall immediately prepare a written report of such refusal[, which] . . . shall be endorsed by a third person who shall have witnessed such refusal[,] . . . shall be sworn to under the penalties of perjury by the police officer before whom such refusal was made[,] . . . shall set forth the grounds for the officer's belief that the person arrested had been driving a motor vehicle . . . while under the influence of intoxicating liquor, and shall state that such person had refused to submit to such chemical test or analysis which requested by such police officer to do so. Each such report shall be endorsed by the police chief . . . and shall be sent forthwith to the registrar. Upon receipt of such report, the registrar shall suspend any license or permit to operate motor vehicles issued to such person . . . for a period of ninety days." Mass.Gen.Laws Ann., ch. 90, § 24(1)(f) (West Supp.1979).

I

While driving a vehicle in Acton, Mass., appellee Donald Montrym was involved in a collision about 8:15 p. m. on May 15, 1976. Upon arrival at the scene of the accident an Acton police officer observed, as he wrote in his official report, that Montrym was "glassy eyed," unsteady on his feet, slurring his speech, and emitting a strong alcoholic odor from his person. The officer arrested Montrym at 8:30 p. m. for operating his vehicle while under the influence of intoxicating liquor, driving to endanger, and failing to produce his motor vehicle registration upon request. Montrym was then taken to the Acton police station.

There, Montrym was asked to take a breath-analysis examination at 8:45 p. m. He refused to do so.1 Twenty minutes after refusing to take the test and shortly after consulting his lawyer, Montrym apparently sought to retract his prior refusal by asking the police to administer a breath-analysis test. The police declined to comply with Montrym's belated request. The statute leaves an officer no discretion once a breath-analysis test has been refused: "If the person arrested refuses to submit to such test or analysis, . . . the police officer before whom such refusal was made shall immediately prepare a written report of such refusal." § 24(1)(f) (emphasis added). The arresting officer completed a report of the events, including the refusal to take the test.

As mandated by the statute, the officer's report recited (a) the fact of Montrym's arrest for driving while under the influence of intoxicating liquor, (b) the grounds supporting that arrest, and (c) the fact of his refusal to take the breath-analysis examination. As required by the statute, the officer's report was sworn to under penalties of perjury, and endorsed by the arresting officer and another officer present when Montrym refused to take the test; it was counterendorsed by the chief of police. The report was then sent to the Massachusetts Registrar of Motor Vehicles pursuant to the statute.

On June 2, 1976, a state court dismissed the complaint brought against Montrym for driving while under the influence of intoxicating liquor.2 Dismissal apparently was predicated on the refusal of the police to administer a breath-analysis test at Montrym's request after he sought to retract his initial refusal to take the test. The dismissal order of the state court cryptically recites:

"Dismissed. Breathalyzer refused when requested within 1/2 hr of arrest at station. See affidavit & memorandum."

According to Montrym's affidavit incorporated by reference in the state court's dismissal order, he was visited by an attorney at 9:05 o'clock on the night of his arrest; and, after consulting with counsel, he requested a breath-analysis test. The police, however, refused the requests made by Montrym and his counsel between 9:07 and 10:07 p. m.

Montrym's attorney immediately advised the Registrar by letter of the dismissal of this charge and asked that the Registrar stay any suspension of Montrym's driver's...

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