A state appeals court in San Francisco has upheld a one-year suspension of a driver’s license for a man who told Danville police he didn’t understand their request that he take a blood alcohol test.
A three-judge panel of the Court of Appeal said that Danville police and the Department of Motor Vehicles were justified in concluding that Steven Marlowe’s repeated statements that he didn’t understand amounted to a refusal to take a blood alcohol test.
The panel said, “The officers were not required to engage in semantic gamesmanship with him.” The ruling was issued late Thursday.
Under state law, motorists agree as a condition of receiving a driver’s license that they will take a chemical blood alcohol test if requested or risk having their license suspended or revoked.
The court decision said a Danville police officer stopped Marlowe on June 9, 2007, when he failed to observe a stop sign. The officer then allegedly smelled alcohol on Marlowe’s breath and noticed his eyes were red and glassy and his speech slurred.
When Marlowe was brought to a police station for a chemical blood or breath test, he repeatedly told officers that he wasn’t refusing, but that he did not understand what was being asked of him.
Eventually, he did not resist when a nurse took a blood sample. Supervising Deputy Contra Costa County District Attorney Bruce Flynn said the test showed a blood alcohol level of 0.2 percent, according to county records.
Flynn said Marlowe pleaded guilty last year to a charge of driving with a blood alcohol level greater than 0.08 percent. He was sentenced to three years of probation and two days in county jail and fined $1,620 in the criminal case, Flynn said.
Separately, in a civil administrative proceeding, the DMV suspended Marlowe’s license for a year on the ground that he had initially refused the test.
Marlowe argued in an appeal of the civil case that he did not specifically decline to take the test.
But the appeals court said that a review of a DVD made of Marlowe’s interview with police showed that he was “articulate and able to communicate” even though he repeatedly asserted he did not understand what police were asking.
The panel said that under state law, “The DMV properly treated his evasive and ambiguous responses as a refusal.”
The panel upheld a similar ruling issued by Contra Costa County Superior Court Judge Joyce Cram in 2008.