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Hilton v. State

Supreme Court of Montana

August 8, 2017

DUSTIN J. HILTON, Petitioner and Appellant,
v.
STATE OF MONTANA, Respondent and Appellee.

          Submitted on Briefs: July 12, 2017

         APPEAL FROM: District Court of the Seventeenth Judicial District, In and For the County of Phillips, Cause No. DV-2015-24 Honorable John C. McKeon, Presiding Judge

          For Appellant Jeremy S. Yellin, Attorney at Law, Havre, Montana

          For Appellee Timothy C. Fox, Montana Attorney General, Micheal S. Wellenstein, Assistant Attorney General, Helena, Montana

          Ed Amestoy, Phillips County Attorney, Malta, Montana

          MICHAEL E WHEAT JUDGE

         ¶1 Pursuant to Section I, Paragraph 3(c), Montana Supreme Court Internal Operating Rules, this case is decided by memorandum opinion and shall not be cited and does not serve as precedent. Its case title, cause number, and disposition shall be included in this Court's quarterly list of noncitable cases published in the Pacific Reporter and Montana Reports.

         ¶2 Dustin J. Hilton (Hilton) appeals the Montana Seventeenth Judicial District Court's Order denying his petition for return of his driver's license. We affirm.

         ¶3 On October 2, 2015, at about 11:30 p.m., Montana Highway Patrol Trooper Ohl responded to a dispatch of a roll-over just outside Malta, Montana. When he arrived at the scene Trooper Ohl found an abandoned vehicle off the roadway near a curve in the road, which was upright but had obviously been rolled. At about midnight dispatch advised Trooper Ohl that Hilton was the driver of the vehicle and that Hilton was at his friend Tony Anderson's house, about one and one half miles from the accident scene. An officer retrieved Hilton from Anderson's house and returned him to the accident scene. While speaking with Hilton, Trooper Ohl observed that Hilton smelled strongly of alcohol and his eyes were bloodshot and watery. Hilton admitted that he had been drinking but only after the accident, which had occurred two or three hours earlier, and after he had walked to Anderson's house. Trooper Ohl had Hilton perform a number of field sobriety tests which showed signs of impairment. The trooper asked Hilton to take a preliminary alcohol screening test, which he refused. Hilton was arrested and charged with DUI. Based on his refusal to take a preliminary alcohol screening test, Hilton's driver's license was suspended.

         ¶4 Hilton filed a petition for the return of his driver's license pursuant to § 61-8-403, MCA, and the District Court held a hearing on Hilton's petition. At the hearing, Hilton challenged whether Trooper Ohl had "reasonable grounds" to believe that Hilton had been driving while under the influence of alcohol. Trooper Ohl was the only testifying witness. Based on the facts and observations testified to by the trooper, which were thoroughly articulated in the District Court's order, the District Court denied Hilton's petition.

         ¶5 We review a district court's decision on a petition for reinstatement of a driver's license to determine whether the district court's findings of fact were clearly erroneous and its conclusions of law were correct. Brunette v. State, 2016 MT 128, ¶ 11, 383 Mont. 458, 372 P.3d 476; Ditton v. DOJ Motor Vehicle Div., 2014 MT 54, ¶ 14, 374 Mont. 122, 319 P.3d 1268. The suspension of a driver's license is presumed to be correct, and the petitioner bears the burden of proving the State's action was improper. Ditton, ¶ 14. Furthermore, the district court, as trier of fact, determines witness credibility and the weight to be given evidence. We do not substitute our judgment for that of the district court. Seyferth v. DOJ, Motor Vehicle Div., 277 Mont. 377, 385, 922 P.2d 494, 499 (1996).

         ¶6 Here, the District Court weighed Hilton's claims against the testimony of Trooper Ohl and concluded that the Trooper's testimony was more credible and provided him with the necessary "reasonable grounds" to believe that Hilton had been driving while under the influence of alcohol. Based on our review of the record and the District Court's findings of fact, we find no error in the District Court's decision.

         ¶7 We have determined to decide this case pursuant to Section I, Paragraph 3(c) of our Internal Operating Rules, which provides for memorandum opinions. In the opinion of the Court, the District Court's findings of ...


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