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New DUI ruling puts state’s two highest courts at odds

OKLAHOMA - A recent ruling regarding DUI offenders by the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals is causing some attorneys to shake their heads.

In the State of Oklahoma vs. Matthew John Hovet,  Hovet’s lawyers wanted his breathalyzer test to be ruled inadmissible in his criminal case.

In September, the Oklahoma Supreme Court, our state’s highest court for civil cases, ruled the rules governing our state’s breathalyzer tests were invalid and not in compliance with state law in Sample vs. DPS.

That ruling resulted in hundreds of DUI offenders getting their driver's licenses back.

The State Board of Tests for Alcohol and Drug Influence, the agency in charge of those rules, had to hold an emergency meeting to change them.

However, the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals, which is the state's highest court for criminal cases, sided with the state in their case.

In its ruling, the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals said “Hovet and the court below have mistakenly used a rule-making process to challenge admissibility of tests (or other evidence) in criminal cases.”

“I would hope that it would be consistent that if one high court ruled one way then the other high court would rule similarly,” said DUI attorney Charles Sifers. “A breath test can’t be introduced to revoke a person’s license. It can however, that same test, be introduced as evidence to convict you of DUI and potentially put you in jail.”

The Court of Criminal Appeals decision said “If Hovet wishes to challenge the method by which the board promulgated its rules and regulations, he may do so in civil court.”

“They totally skip over the fact that that’s what we did. You know, the Sample case says the rule was invalid, and they mention the Sample case,” said DUI attorney John Hunsucker, whose firm represented the DUI defendants in both cases.

DUI attorneys are left frustrated and said this points out the need for reform in our state’s court system.

“Needs to be replaced with a system where there is one court that is the court of final resort or last resort for all cases to resolve the issues between criminal and civil,” Hunsucker said.

Kevin Behrens, the Director for the Board of Tests for Alcohol and Drug Influence, sent us this statement about the latest court ruling:

“I have reviewed the Hovet decision issued by the court of criminal appeals. It is satisfying to see a court follow the reasoning the agency set forth in its 'friend of the court' brief in the Sample v. DPS case. However, as the agency has already changed its rules to accommodate Sample, I don't anticipate the Hovet decision to have any immediate impact on the agency's day to day operations. I can't speak to the effect it may have on pending criminal cases because the agency is not a party to those cases.”