The Missouri Court of Appeals Western District ruled Feb. 13 that the wording on a form accompanying certain alcohol breath tests does not preclude law enforcers from administering those tests in their patrol cars.

Under regulations promulgated by the Department of Health and Senior Services, law enforcers who administer a breath test using an Alco-Sensor IV with Printer device must fill out a form certifying certain procedures were followed, including that “no radio transmission occurred inside the room where and when this was being conducted.”

Joseph Allen Baker, a man arrested in 2017 for driving drunk in Lafayette County, had argued in circuit court that according to that language, the test must occur in a room, which to him meant “an area within a building that has its own walls, floor, ceiling and door.” A patrol car is not a room, Baker reasoned, therefore the test that a Missouri State Highway Patrolman administered to him in a patrol car was not valid.

Baker had convinced Judge Kelly H. Rose to adopt this reasoning and set aside the Missouri Director of Revenue’s decision to suspend his driving privileges. But the Western District rejected Baker’s logic.

“Baker’s argument ignores fundamental interpretive principles applicable to the DHSS’s regulations,” wrote Judge Alok Ahuja, who authored the unanimous opinion, with judges Anthony Rex Gabbert and Victor C. Howard concurring.

One principle, the panel noted, is that the judges must harmonize the wording on the test form with the language in the regulation. And the regulation “expressly” states that breath analyzers may be used in vehicles used for driving-while-intoxicated enforcement.

“A harmonious reading of the two provisions is plainly feasible” Ahuja wrote. All the court need do is interpret “room” as “a defined or enclosed space,” as the dictionary does.

But even if the test form were in irreconcilable conflict with the regulation, Ahuja argued, Baker still wouldn’t prevail because the Missouri Supreme Court specifically held in a 2016 case, Stiers v. Director of Revenue, that the DHSS’s breath-test regulations outweigh the DHSS’s reporting forms.

The panel ordered a new trial for Baker in Lafayette County Circuit Court.

Neither Morgan Brewington, appellate counsel for the Missouri Department of Revenue, nor Baker’s attorney, James R. Hall of Barton, Hall & Schneiders in Oak Grove, responded to requests for comment.

The case is Joseph Franklin Baker v. Director of Revenue for the State of Missouri, WD81325.

By Nicholas Phillips | Missouri Lawyers Weekly