The Case of the Precarious Siesta

Discussing: Bryan Goforth v. Director of Revenue , WD82604.
Opinion filed by the Missouri Court of Appeals, Western District, on February 11, 2020.

Imagine being alone and about 250 miles away from home. You’re minding your own business, taking a nap in the driver’s seat of your car at Taco Bell at 1:00am. You have your driver’s side window rolled down despite the cold temperature and rain. Seemingly out of nowhere, you’re awoken by a law enforcement officer.

The officer notices you are the only person in the car, the lights are on, and the strong smell of alcohol coming from the car. He asks you if you have you been drinking, to which you reply that you may have been at a restaurant with a bar earlier that night and had at least two glasses of wine and 3 or 4 beers. At this point, the officer arrests you. He takes you to jail and reads the implied consent warning as required by law. You then refuse to take the breathalyzer or any other chemical test, and are then notified that your license is being revoked.

Now you’re in a jam, so you do the smart thing and  hire a lawyer.

Your lawyer files a Petition for Review of the License Revocation and argues that because there was no evidence you operated the vehicle on a public highway, your refusal to submit to a breathalyzer is not a valid refusal under Missouri’s implied consent law.
Unfortunately, you are going to lose the case. But why exactly? All the cop saw was a person who may, or may not be, intoxicated and sleeping in their vehicle.

Here’s the law: In the State of Missouri, the law says anyone who operates a vehicle on a public highway is deemed to have given consent for a chemical testing of breath, saliva, or urine for the purpose of determining the amount of alcohol and/or drugs in a person blood if that person is arrested for an offense that the arresting officer has reasonable grounds to believe were committed while operating a motor vehicle.
When you challenge your license suspension in court after refusing a breathalyzer or other chemical test, the court has a hearing to determine if you were (1) arrested or stopped (2) if the cop has reasonable grounds to believe you were driving while intoxicated and (3) whether the person gave a valid refusal to submit to the breathalyzer or other chemical test.

There are instances when a refusal is invalid and cannot be used against you, such as not being read the implied consent warning, or when the refusal is conditioned upon consulting with a lawyer. So now the legal question becomes, does the Director of Revenue have to prove you, in fact, gave implied consent to submit to chemical testing by operating a motor vehicle at the time of the arrest or for that matter, any other point in time?
The Court examined the issue, finding there was not any case law that directly addressed this question, but did find two cases that seemed to address the question indirectly.

In the first of the two cases, a driver was arrested for DWI after driving over the curb of a Wendy’s restaurant, through some grass, and into a Taco Bell lot. In that case, it was determined that the driver had given implied consent to submit to chemical testing even though she was not operating the vehicle at the time of the arrest. Rather, the implied consent was established through her prior driving record.

In the other case the court examined, a driver was arrested while in a parked vehicle at a hotel/motel for driving while intoxicated. This driver consented to the chemical test after being informed his license would be suspended if he did not. The court in that case said whether or not the driver operated his vehicle on a public highway at the time of the arrest didn’t matter, because simply applying for and accepting a Missouri Driver’s licenses is sufficient to support a finding that the driver has impliedly given consent to submit to chemical testing.
So how does that apply in this case?

For one, case law shows that it is reasonable to conclude that if someone has a Missouri driver’s license, that they have, at some point operated a vehicle on a public highway, and therefore gave implied consent to submit to a breathalyzer or some other form of chemical testing. Secondly, there is evidence in this case to suggest you were operating the vehicle on a public highway. For example, you were found in the driver’s seat of a car with the engine running, with no one else was in the car, at a Taco Bell approximately 250 miles from your home address. Therefore, implied consent was given, and the refusal to submit to a breathalyzer or other form of chemical test was valid.

In summary, to revoke a license for refusing to submit to a breathalyzer or other chemical test under Missouri’s implied consent law, the Director of Revenue must prove (1) you were arrested or stopped, (2) there are reasonable grounds to believe you were driving while intoxicated and (3) that you gave a valid refusal to submit to a chemical test after giving implied consent. In this case, the driver is beat on all three.

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