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In re Erickson

Supreme Court of South Dakota

November 15, 2017

IN THE MATTER OF CIMERON GRANT ERICKSON, Petitioner and Appellee,
v.
DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC SAFETY, Respondent and Appellant.

          CONSIDERED ON BRIEFS ON MAY 30, 2017

         APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE SECOND JUDICIAL CIRCUIT MINNEHAHA COUNTY, SOUTH DAKOTA THE HONORABLE DOUGLAS E. HOFFMAN Judge

          RICHARD L. JOHNSON Sioux Falls, South Dakota Attorney for petitioner and appellee.

          JENNA E. HOWELL Special Assistant Attorney General South Dakota Department of Public Safety Pierre, South Dakota Attorneys for respondent and appellant.

          GILBERTSON, CHIEF JUSTICE

         [¶1.] Cimeron Grant Erickson, who holds a commercial driver's license, pleaded guilty to operating a vehicle while his blood alcohol content was 0.08 percent or more. The South Dakota Department of Public Safety subsequently disqualified him from operating commercial motor vehicles for one year. Erickson appealed the Department's decision to the circuit court, which reversed the Department's decision without remanding. The Department appeals. We reverse the circuit court's decision.

         Facts and Procedural History

         [¶2.] On July 30, 2011, Erickson was arrested for driving his motorcycle while under the influence of alcohol. On November 3, 2011, Erickson pleaded guilty to driving a vehicle while his blood alcohol content was 0.08 percent or more, in violation of SDCL 32-23-1(1). At Erickson's sentencing hearing on December 19, Magistrate Judge Alan D. Dietrich suspended the imposition of sentence and placed Erickson on probation for a period of three years. Erickson successfully completed probation, and on January 2, 2015, Magistrate Dietrich discharged Erickson and signed an order sealing his criminal record.

         [¶3.] Prior to Erickson's 2011 arrest, he worked as a truck driver in South Dakota, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, and Wyoming. He obtained his commercial driver's license in South Dakota in 2003. On January 13, 2015, the Department notified Erickson that because of his plea, it was disqualifying him from operating a commercial motor vehicle for one year pursuant to SDCL 32-12A-36. On January 22, Erickson requested a hearing. Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Ryan Darling held a telephonic hearing with the parties on March 17. During the hearing, the parties referred to the offense for which Erickson pleaded guilty as a "DWI." On June 16, ALJ Darling issued proposed findings of fact, conclusions of law, and an order recommending Erickson be disqualified from holding a commercial driver's license for one year. The following day, the Department's program director, Jane Schrank, issued a final decision adopting ALJ Darling's recommendation.

         [¶4.] Erickson appealed the Department's decision to circuit court. The court determined that the record before ALJ Darling included neither the complete criminal file nor a transcript of Erickson's plea hearing before Magistrate Dietrich. According to the court, the docket sheet on file stated that Erickson pleaded guilty to "driving under the influence of alcohol." However, after reviewing an audio recording of the plea hearing, the court concluded Erickson pleaded guilty to driving with a blood alcohol content of 0.08 percent or more under SDCL 32-23-1(1)-not to driving while under the influence of alcohol under SDCL 32-23-1(2). The circuit court concluded that SDCL 32-23-1(1) and -1(2) set forth distinct crimes and that SDCL 32-12A-36(1) contemplates only convictions under SDCL 32-23-1(1). Thus, because Erickson pleaded guilty to driving a vehicle with a blood alcohol content of 0.08 percent or more, the court concluded SDCL 32-12A-36(1)'s disqualification did not apply to Erickson and reversed.

         [¶5.] The Department appeals, raising the following issue: Whether pleading guilty to driving with a blood alcohol content of 0.08 percent or more in violation of SDCL 32-23-1(1) is a conviction for driving while under the influence of alcohol within the meaning of SDCL 32-12A-36(1).[1]

         Standard of Review

         [¶6.] The central issue in this case is a question of statutory construction, which we review de novo. State v. Underwood, 2017 S.D. 3, ¶ 5, 890 N.W.2d 240, 241. We give no deference to the circuit court's legal conclusions. Id.

         Analysis ...


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