MacDonald v. Gutierrez (2004)

CASE SUMMARY: MacDonald v. Gutierrez (2004) 32 Cal.4th 150                  

  The California Legislature built §13380 to protect the quality of evidence presented at the DMV hearing. MacDonald v. Gutierrez is an important case in California history, one that every DUI lawyer should know. Through this case, the Supreme Court diluted this important accountability statute to such an extent that it rendered it practically inapplicable at the DMV hearing. After this landmark case, police officers can now write the absolute bare minimum under sworn conditions and submit an unsworn report to explain the entire event.

The question begs asking: why do we want police officers to swear, under penalty, to tell the truth? 

Are we really okay with a government “trust us, with no verification” policy? 

Facts

CHP witnessed MacDonald (hereafter “D”) swerve 2 feet into the left lane of the freeway, then 5 feet onto the right shoulder. CHP effected a traffic stop. After FST’s and observation of objective symptoms of intoxication, the same officer arrested D for DUI.

The Sworn Report (DS-367 Form) was completed, but all that was written explaining the lawfulness of the traffic detention was, “OBS, S/V DRIVING W/B 101 DESOTO TO TOPANGA WEAVING SIDE TO SIDE IN W-1 LANE — STOP MADE.” No other information was provided in the sworn report (regarding the lawfulness of the detention). 

The arresting officer also completed an unsworn arrest report and and an unsworn narrative supplemental. D’s counsel objected to the unsworn report as inadmissible hearsay. The DMV overruled and suspended anyway.

Writ was Granted Against the DMV

The trial court granted the writ, overturning the suspension. The recent case of Solovij v. Gourley was used as the basis for holding the DMV accountable to §13380. Solovij held this was not a hearsay issue; it was an issue of noncompliance by the arresting officer with explicit requirements in §13380 “to file a sworn report containing all information relevant to the enforcement action.”

Solovij was very clear. The opinion did not mince words. “We presumed that when the Legislature said the arresting officer must include all information in a sworn report, it meant what it said. An unsworn report will not suffice.” They continued, “the DMV cannot evade the statutory requirement [….] simply by categorizing the arresting officers unsworn report as additional evidence.”

Supreme Court Drastically Dilutes the Protections of §13380  *Read the casebriefs on Solovij and Lake on this site.

Essentially, the Solovij court held it was necessary for the DMV to strictly enforce Vehicle Code §13380The Lake Court held a non-arresting officer’s unsworn report admissible as additional evidence — allowed by Vehicle Code §13557. The Supreme Court gave more weight to §13557, bolstering it through Government Code §11513.

§11513 is important to know. It lays forth the standard for admissibility in all Administrative Procedure Act hearings — of which the DMV/DUI hearings fall under. The standard holds evidence admissible if it is “the sort of evidence on which responsible persons are accustomed to rely in the conduct of serious affairs.”

The final paragraph of MacDonald is the most instructive. It evens explicitly summarizes the ambiguous holding. “Section 13380 provides the arresting officer’s sworn report will contain “all information relevant to the enforcement action.” Therefore, the Legislature clearly anticipates the sworn report will contain all or nearly all of the information necessary to remove the offender’s license. In light of this legislative intent, the sworn report cannot be wholly devoid of relevant information. However, so long as a sworn report is filed, it is consistent with the relaxed evidentiary standards of an administrative per se hearing that technical omissions of proof can be corrected by an unsworn report filed by the arresting officer. In this case, the arresting officer filed a sworn report.”

Though this seems to create a massive loophole for admissibility through a standard so vague that no two people could agree what it is, MacDonald v. Gutierrez can still be used to argue for accountability in evidence presented by the DMV in license suspension hearings. The opinion does distinguish between “technical omissions of proof” and other omissions. One can only infer the use of the word “technical” means that there are situations where the omissions of proof are more than technical — that there may actually exist material omissions that cannot be cured by an unsworn report.

There just may be omissions in the sworn report that actually create a situation where Vehicle Code §13380 is …. (shall I say it?) …. a real law on the books? I mean, one that is actually enforced against the government — just to make sure the evidence is reliable, trustworthy, competent, possible? 

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