More on Relevance of Evidence

In my last article, I wrote about how evidence is determined to be relevant to an issue in a case. <https://danielreitman.wordpress.com/2017/02/24/explaining-relevance-of-evidence/>. Another recent case, Gaylord v. DMV, 283 Or App 811 (2017), <http://www.publications.ojd.state.or.us/docs/A155084.pdf>, shows how relevance can be considered beyond the basic pleadings.

Ms. Gaylord was involved in a car accident. The investigating officer observed her to be apparently impaired. When Ms. Gaylord refused field sobriety tests, she was arrested. At the police station, after making a phone call, Ms. Gaylord agreed to the field tests, and failed them. The officer then asked her to take a breathalyzer test, which she passed. The officer also asked her to take a urine test, which she refused. The officer then informed her that her driving privileges would be suspended and confiscated her license. It was not disputed that the officer warned Ms. Gaylord of the consequences of refusing a breath test. It was disputed whether he warned her of the consequences of refusing a urine test.

After leaving the station, Ms. Gaylord went to an emergency care clinic to take a private urine test. Because she no longer had identification, the clinic refused, but by the next morning, she had found a lab that conducted the test, which she passed.

Ms. Gaylord requested an administrative hearing on the license suspension, arguing that she would have submitted to the urine test had she been properly warned. At the hearing, the officer testified that his usual practice was to read the warnings from a printed form, and to check each warning as he read them. The section for the warnings for a breath test were checked. The sections for the warnings for a urine test were not. Nevertheless, he testified that he had in fact read the warnings regarding a urine test. He also testified that he had smelled alcohol on Ms. Gaylord’s breath.

Ms. Gaylord testified that she had been dazed at the time of the accident. She also acknowledged that she had been warned regarding the breath test, but testified that she had not been warned regarding the urine test. She denied that she had been drinking. She then offered the results of her private urine test to prove two points. First, she argued that it was relevant to her willingness to take the urine test. Second, she argued that the clean result was relevant to whether she was, in fact, impaired at the time she was asked to take the test and therefore a credible witness.

The administrative law judge (ALJ) ruled that the test was not relevant and then ruled, weighing the credibility of the witnesses, that the officer was more credible than Ms. Gaylord. The ALJ ruled that Ms. Gaylord’s acknowledgment that she was dazed and the officer’s testimony that she showed symptoms of impairment raised questions about her condition and her memory. The suspension was upheld.

In Oregon, the next stage of review is to ask a regular judge to review the administrative ruling. Ms. Gaylord filed a petition for review. The trial judge ruled for Ms. Gaylord. First, the trial judge ruled that the test was relevant to whether Ms. Gaylord was intoxicated, and therefore, whether she could remember the events accurately.

Ms. Gaylord also asserted that there was not substantial evidence to support the ALJ’s rulings on credibility. The trial judge ruled in her favor on this point as well, concluding that the officer’s testimony about smelling alcohol was called into question by the negative breath test, and that Ms. Gaylord’s statement about being dazed at the time of the accident was not enough to show that she was dazed when she refused the urine test. Based on these findings, the trial judge ordered the suspension lifted.

This time, the DMV appealed to the Court of Appeals, which split the difference. The court noted that in reviewing an ALJ’s ruling in a license suspension hearing, the judge should review the ALJ’s rulings using different standards. For rulings on evidence, the question is whether the ALJ got the ruling wrong. In reviewing whether there is substantial evidence for a finding of fact such as credibility, ,however, the question should be whether there is enough evidence in the record to support the finding, not whether there is also evidence to support a different ruling.

The court concluded that the meaning of relevance in administrative hearings was the same as in court hearings: whether the evidence can increase the chances of finding for or against a material fact. The DMV argued that the private urine test was not relevant because Ms. Gaylord’s suspension was for refusing a test, not for driving while intoxicated. The court disagreed, noting that whether Ms. Gaylord was intoxicated was relevant to her memory and therefore to whether she was a credible witness. Credibility is always relevant to any affected material issue, including whether Ms. Gaylord was warned about the consequences of refusing the urine test. Without that warning, her license could not be suspended. The court also ruled that the fact that she took a private test was also relevant to the fact that she was willing to take a test had she been properly warned. Therefore, the court concluded that the urine test should have been admitted, and that it was a significant error to exclude it because the ALJ’s findings on credibility may have been affected.

On the other hand, the court ruled that the trial judge improperly made her own decision regarding whether there was substantial evidence to support the ALJ’s findings. If the ALJ might have made the same findings anyway, that would be enough evidence. The proper response should have been to send the case back for another administrative hearing, which the court ordered.

As with my last article, if you think some evidence may be relevant about your case, talk to your lawyer, and try to work out why it may have a bearing.

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