Wednesday, January 05, 2011

DUI Appeal of the Day - Collateral Estoppel OK for Wyoming DUI

In Bowen v. Wyoming Dep't of Transportation, -- P.3d ----, 2011 WL 9617 (Wyo.), 2011 WY 1, the defendant appealed from an administrative decision, finding that the driver was collaterally estopped from relitigating the question of the admissibility of his breath test results in his administrative license suspension hearing after the circuit court had already decided that issue against him in a criminal proceeding. On appeal, the Supreme Court of Wyoming was asked to decide whether collateral estoppel coud be applied from a criminal case to a civil license administration case. Most states have previoulsy ruled that collateral estoppel should not apply from an administrative hearing (implied consent) to a criminal case, under various theories. One theory involves the fact that the implied consent hearing is summary in nature, so that a 'full and fair' adjudication may not occur. Another theory preventing collateral estoppel from a drivers license suspension hearing and a criminal DUI case could be that the parties are not identical (one involves the DMV where the other involves District Attorneys and the 'People').

The Wyoming Supreme Court analyzed the issue as follows:
The issue raised in this appeal is one of first impression for this Court. Furthermore, we are unable to find authority from any other jurisdiction addressing this particular factual scenario.FN3 Nevertheless, we find application of collateral estoppel to these facts to be clear and straightforward: 1) the issue was identical in both proceedings: whether the trooper was properly trained to perform the breath test using the EC/IR II making the breath-test results admissible; 2) the circuit court's determination that the trooper was properly trained and that the breath test was admissible was a final determination of that issue; 3) the appellant, the party against whom collateral estoppel was asserted, was a party to both proceedings; 4) finally, the prior criminal case afforded the appellant a full and fair opportunity to litigate the issue. When applying collateral estoppel to an issue raised in a civil action, which issue was previously litigated in a criminal action, we have said that criminal proceedings present a defendant with a full and fair opportunity to litigate the issues because a criminal defendant has strong incentives to defend vigorously the charges against him. Worman v. Carver, 2002 WY 59, 21, 44 P.3d 82, 87-88 (Wyo.2002). In this case, the criminal proceedings afforded the appellant a full evidentiary hearing wherein he offered evidence, examined witnesses, and made arguments. FN4

FN3. We note that courts have addressed the applicability of collateral estoppel under other circumstances involving criminal and administrative cases. See Huelsman v. Kansas Dep't of Revenue, 980 P.2d 1022, 1025-27 (Kan.1999) (suppression of evidence in DUI prosecution based on lack of probable cause did not collaterally estop state from arguing in license suspension proceeding that officer had “reasonable grounds” to request a breath test pursuant to the implied consent law); State v. Young, 530 N.W.2d 269, 273-77 (Neb.Ct.App.1995) (holding that collateral estoppel does not require a criminal court to accept as binding an administrative proceeding's license revocation determination); In re Mehrer, 273 N.W.2d 194, 197 (S.D.1979) (no collateral estoppel in license revocation proceedings despite dismissal of DUI charge against defendant in criminal case because different elements must be proven to show DUI versus violation of implied consent laws); City of Manhattan v. Huncovsky, 913 P.2d 227, 232 (Kan.Ct.App.1996) (criminal court not collaterally estopped from deciding validity of breath test where agency questioned validity of breath test results and dismissed administrative proceedings).

We conclude that the doctrine of collateral estoppel precluded the appellant from relitigating the question of whether his breath test results were legally obtained.FN5 The OAHs determination is affirmed.

The Wyoming Supreme Court refused, however, to issue a bright-line ruling. Instead, they ruled that each case would have to be decided on a fact-specific basis. Thus, it is likely that a party can always get a "second bite at the apple" if they have additional evidence to present:
FN5. We note the limited nature of our decision in this matter. Although we find that collateral estoppel applies under these specific circumstances, the same may not be true in other similar situations. For example, we cannot say that collateral estoppel would always bar an administrative body from addressing an issue previously decided by a criminal court; nor does this holding stand for the proposition that a criminal defendant should be collaterally estopped from arguing an issue in his criminal case that had previously been decided in an administrative proceeding. Neither of these questions, nor any others not specifically addressed, were raised by the parties nor do they arise under the facts of this case.
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