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Anderson v. Director of Revenue

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Eastern District, Fourth Division

July 16, 2019

CHARLES ANDERSON, Respondent,
v.
DIRECTOR OF REVENUE, Appellant.

          Appeal from the Circuit Court of Franklin County 15AB-AC01852, Honorable David L. Hoven Judge.

          Gary M. Gaertner Jr. Judge.

         Introduction

         The Director of Revenue (Director) appeals the judgment of the trial court in favor of Respondent Charles Anderson (Anderson), which reinstated Anderson's driver's license because it found the Director failed to establish there was probable cause to believe Anderson operated his vehicle while intoxicated. The Director argues the trial court erroneously applied Missouri law regarding what constitutes "driving." We reverse.

         Background

         On September 21, 2015, Sergeant Joseph Renkenmeyer of the Washington Police Department received a call from dispatch that a gas station clerk had reported a vehicle parked by the gas station for about an hour, with the driver passed out inside the vehicle. Sergeant Renkenmeyer and Sergeant Chad Sloan arrived at the gas station and saw the vehicle parked with its engine running. The vehicle was not parked in a parking spot. It was not illegally parked, but Sergeant Renkenmeyer observed it was unusually parked. He testified he had seen vehicles parked along the same side of the gas station before, but not the way this vehicle was parked. The officers observed Anderson in the vehicle, slumped forward with his eyes closed. Sergeant Renkenmeyer knocked on the window and shook the vehicle in order to rouse Anderson. Sergeant Renkenmeyer asked Anderson to unlock and open the door, which Anderson did. Sergeant Sloan reached in and turned off the engine.

         Sergeant Renkenmeyer asked Anderson if he had had anything to drink, and Anderson initially replied, "Yeah, some water and bit of soda." Sergeant Renkenmeyer asked specifically about alcoholic drinks, and Anderson replied, "A little bit" and "It's been over an hour." Sergeant Renkenmeyer asked Anderson if he drove himself to the gas station, and Anderson said that he did. Sergeant Renkenmeyer asked Anderson to submit to a preliminary breath test (PBT), but Anderson refused.

         The Director revoked Anderson's license for a period of one year due to Anderson's refusal to submit to a chemical test, in violation of Section 577.041, RSMo. (Supp. 2015).[1] Anderson filed a petition for review in the circuit court, which reversed the revocation of Anderson's driver's license, finding that there was not substantial and competent evidence to establish probable cause for believing Anderson drove his vehicle while intoxicated. This appeal follows.

         Standard of Review

         Our review of a court-tried case is governed by the principles set forth by the Missouri Supreme Court in Murphy v. Carron, 536 S.W.2d 30, 32 (Mo. banc 1976). We will affirm the judgment of the trial court unless there is no substantial evidence to support it, it is against the weight of the evidence, or it erroneously declares or applies the law. Id. We defer to the trial court's factual findings. Sostman v. Dir. of Revenue, 363 S.W.3d 55, 57 (Mo. App. E.D. 2011). But if our inquiry is purely legal, we need not defer to the trial court's conclusion. See Hampton v. Dir. of Revenue, 22 S.W.3d 217, 220 (Mo. App. W.D. 2000).

         Discussion

         The Director's sole point on appeal is that the trial court erroneously reinstated Anderson's driver's license due to a misapplication of the statutory definition of "drive." We agree.

         According to Section 577.041.1, if a person under arrest or who has been stopped refuses to submit to an officer's request for a chemical test, that "person's license shall be immediately revoked upon refusal to take the test." In order to uphold the revocation, as relevant here, the Director must show (1) the person was arrested or stopped, (2) the officer had reasonable grounds to believe that the person was driving a motor vehicle while in an intoxicated condition, and (3) the person refused to submit to a chemical test. Section 577.041.4. At issue on appeal is whether the Director established that Sergeant Renkenmeyer had probable cause to believe Anderson was driving while intoxicated.

         "Probable cause to arrest exists when the arresting officer's knowledge of the particular facts and circumstances is sufficient to warrant a prudent person's belief that a suspect has committed an offense." Hinnah v. Dir. of Revenue,77 S.W.3d 616, 621 (Mo. banc 2002). The determination of probable cause is based on "the information in the officers' possession prior to the arrest." Id. The test is not precise, ...


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