Friday, January 9. 2004
State Supreme Court Rules Unsworn Statements by Arresting Officer Admissible at DMV Hearings
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Disapproving two rulings by Div. Six of this district’s Court of Appeal, the state Supreme Court said yesterday that unsworn statements by arresting officers are admissible in summary proceedings before the Department of Motor Vehicles to suspend the licenses of persons arrested for driving while intoxicated.
The justices unanimously held that Vehicle Code Sec. 13557, which permits the department to consider “the sworn report submitted by the peace officer—and any other evidence accompanying the report,” makes the unsworn material admissible. It is not inadmissible as hearsay because it qualifies for the public employee record exception, Justice Janet Rogers Brown noted in her opinion for the court.
Brown said this district’s Div. Three, in a September 2002 ruling authored by Presiding Justice Joan Dempsey Klein, correctly reversed Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Dzintra I. Janavs, who granted Daniel L. MacDonald’s petition for a writ setting aside his license suspension. Janavs relied on Solovij v. Gourley (2001) 87 Cal.App.4th 1229, in which the Court of Appeal held that permitting such evidence would frustrate the intent of Vehicle Code Sec. 13380.
That section requires that the arresting officer submit a sworn report containing “all relevant information” about the arrest. Presiding Justice Arthur Gilbert of this district’s Div. Six, in his opinion in Solovij, distinguished the Supreme Court’s 1997 decision in Lake v. Reed, 16 Cal.4th 448, which held that unsworn statements by an officer other than the arresting officer can be admitted at per se DMV review hearings.
Gilbert wrote that the DMV “cannot evade the statutory requirement that the arresting officer must include all information in a sworn report simply by categorizing the arresting officer’s unsworn report as additional evidence.”
But Brown said Solovij and Dibble v. Gourley (2002) 103 Cal.App.4th 496, in which Div. Six again reached the same result after the Div. Three ruling in MacDonald’s case, were inconsistent with Lake.
“The conclusion reached by the Courts of Appeal in Solovij—and Dibble—that the DMV may not consider an unsworn report by the arresting officer—is certainly arguable. However, given our conclusion in Lake that the DMV may consider an unsworn report by a nonarresting officer, it would be anomalous if it could not also consider an unsworn report by the arresting officer that is intended to supplement the officer’s sworn report.”
In disapproving Solovij and Dibble, Brown said, the high court was not suggesting that the requirements of Sec. 13380 could be disregarded.
“In light of this legislative intent, the sworn report cannot be wholly devoid of relevant information. However, so long as a sworn report is filed, it is consistent with the relaxed evidentiary standards of an administrative per se hearing that technical omissions of proof can be corrected by an unsworn report filed by the arresting officer.”
Deputy Attorney General Michelle Logan-Stern argued the case before the Supreme Court on behalf of the DMV. Ventura attorney Ronald A. Jackson argued on behalf of MacDonald.
The case is MacDonald v. Gutierrez, 04 S.O.S. 115.
Copyright 2004, Metropolitan News Company