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Bright v. Ray

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Eastern District, Second Division

May 23, 2017

JAMES E. BRIGHT, Appellant,
v.
NIA RAY, Director of the MISSOURI DEPARTMENT OF REVENUE, et al, Respondents.

         Appeal from the Circuit Court of St. Louis County Honorable Kristine A. Kerr

          ROY L RICHTER, Judge

         James E. Bright ("Petitioner") appeals from a judgment of the Circuit Court of St. Louis County denying his petition for expungement of records under Section 577.054, RSMo. 2000, after he pled guilty to an amended charge of careless and imprudent driving under Section 320.060 of the Town and Country City Code. The circuit court granted motions to dismiss Petitioner's petition, which were filed by the Missouri State Highway Patrol and the City of Town and Country (collectively, "Respondents"). We affirm.

         I. Background

         On September 5, 2002, the Town and Country Police Department arrested Petitioner and charged him with driving while intoxicated ("DWI"), pursuant to Section 345.020 of the Town and Country City Code, which provided that "[a] person commits the offense of 'driving while intoxicated' if he/she operates a motor vehicle while in an intoxicated and/or drugged condition."

         On December 20, 2002, as part of a negotiated plea bargain with the Town and Country prosecuting attorney, Petitioner pled guilty to an amended charge of "careless and imprudent driving" under Section 320.060 of the Town and Country City Code. Petitioner also received a suspended imposition of sentence, conditioned on a one-day probation and the successful completion of the Substance Abuse Traffic Offenders' Program ("SATOP").

         On April 9, 2003, the Missouri Department of Revenue suspended Petitioner's driver's license for 90 days, which was an independent administrative suspension based upon a finding of probable cause to believe that Petitioner was driving a motor vehicle while his alcohol concentration was at or above the limit provided in Section 302.505.

         On October 29, 2013, Petitioner filed a petition for expungement in the Town and Country Municipal Court, which was denied without a hearing based on the fact that under Section 577.054, Petitioner was ineligible to have the records expunged because careless and imprudent driving is not an "alcohol-related offense." Petitioner then sought a trial de novo of the municipal judge's decision in the circuit court of St. Louis County, which was dismissed pursuant to Section 479.200, giving only defendants a right to a trial de novo. Petitioner appealed and this Court affirmed. Bright v. Town and Country Police Dept., 449 S.W.3d 401 (Mo. App. E.D. 2014). Petitioner's motions for rehearing and application for transfer to the Supreme Court were subsequently denied.

         Petitioner then filed an application for prohibition and/or mandamus in the circuit court, requesting that the municipal judge be prohibited from ruling that careless and imprudent driving is not an alcohol-related driving offense and be mandated to hold an evidentiary hearing. The circuit court directed the municipal court to rehear the case. After a hearing on the petition for expungement, the court reached the same conclusion as before: careless and imprudent driving is not an alcohol-related driving offense. Petitioner appealed to this court, which found that the municipal court lacked jurisdiction over the expungement petition and reversed and remanded for dismissal. Bright v. Mollenkamp, 482 S.W.3d 467 (Mo. App. E.D. 2016). Petitioner then refiled his petition in the St. Louis County Circuit Court, which granted Respondents' motions to dismiss Petitioner's petition, finding that Petitioner's conviction for careless and imprudent driving is not an "alcohol-related driving offense." This appeal follows.

         Petitioner has not been convicted of any "alcohol-related driving offenses" after his guilty plea for careless and imprudent driving in the Town and Country Municipal Court in 2002, and Petitioner's driver's license operator status is currently valid. At no time has Petitioner had a commercial driver's license in this or any other state.

         II. Discussion

         Petitioner raises one point on appeal, which has multiple parts. He argues the circuit court erred in granting Respondents' motions to dismiss, thereby denying Petitioner's petition for expungement under Section 577.054, because he met all the statutory requirements, including pleading guilty to an "alcohol-related driving offense." He argues the following reasons: (A) Petitioner's guilty plea to careless and imprudent driving in this case is a plea to a driving offense which is clearly "connected by reason of an established or discovered relation" to alcohol; (B) the prospective repeal of Section 577.054 and replacement of the same with Section 610.130 further supports the construction and interpretation of "alcohol-related driving offense" urged by Petitioner; (C) the definition of "alcohol-related driving offense" as contained in Section 302.545 of the Town and Country City Code provides some guidance to its meaning in Section 577.054; and (D) restrictively interpreting the term "alcohol-related driving offense" to exclude a plea-bargained traffic offense amended from the DWI with which Petitioner was initially charged would constitute a constitutional violation of Petitioner's equal protection and due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article I, Sections 2 and 10 of the Missouri Constitution.

         A. Standard of Review

         This case was submitted to the trial court upon a stipulation of facts and procedural history, and a correction to that stipulation. The only question on appeal for this Court is a question of law: whether Petitioner's guilty plea to careless and imprudent driving constituted a guilty plea to an "alcohol-related driving offense" as it is used in Section 577.054. "When, as here, a court-tried case is submitted on stipulated facts, however, then the only question before the Court is 'whether the trial court drew the proper legal conclusions from the facts stipulated.' The Court reviews ...


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