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Man who refused breath test from park ranger can still lose license

Scott Lauck//May 24, 2023//

Man who refused breath test from park ranger can still lose license

Scott Lauck//May 24, 2023//

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The Missouri Court of Appeals Southern District ruled that a man who refused to take a blood alcohol content test from the federal officer who pulled him over can still lose his driver’s license.

A federal park ranger stopped defendant Chris Wood for speeding on a Missouri highway that runs through the Ozark National Scenic Riverways. The ranger, alleging Wood exhibited signs of intoxication, administered several field sobriety tests, which Wood failed. However, Wood refused to consent to a breath test, saying he was “just going to go to jail anyway.”

Under Missouri’s implied consent law, motorists who refuse to consent to a chemical test from a “officer” can lose their licenses apart from any criminal proceedings for driving while intoxicated. However, a Shannon County judge set aside the revocation of Wood’s license, holding that the arrest by a federal officer didn’t meet the statute’s requirements.

Judge Jennifer R. Growcock, writing for the Southern District, disagreed. Neither the implied consent law nor the related criminal statutes governing drunken driving require the arresting officer to be certified as a state peace officer, she said. It also didn’t matter that the ranger cited Wood for violations of federal regulations rather than state or local laws.

And while Wood had argued that the ranger wasn’t a delegate or agent of the director of the Department of Revenue, which handles license revocations, Growcock noted that neither are most police officers.

“The Director may suspend or revoke a driver’s license after a driver refuses an officer’s request to undertake a chemical test, period,” she wrote. Judges Jeffrey W. Bates and Mary W. Sheffield concurred.

Growcock added that the trial court’s approach “would exempt an entire class of drunk drivers from the consequences of the Implied Consent law.”

“Inferring that the Missouri General Assembly intended inebriated drivers on federal land to remain on public roads is absurd and illogical given the text and intent of the Implied Consent law,” she wrote.

The court remanded the case to the circuit court for a new determination of the status of Wood’s license.

The case is Wood v. Director of Revenue, SD37261.

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