DUSTIN J. HILTON, Petitioner and Appellant,
STATE OF MONTANA, Respondent and Appellee.
Submitted on Briefs: July 12, 2017
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
Appellant Jeremy S. Yellin, Attorney at Law, Havre, Montana
Appellee Timothy C. Fox, Montana Attorney General, Micheal S.
Wellenstein, Assistant Attorney General, Helena, Montana
Amestoy, Phillips County Attorney, Malta, Montana
MICHAEL E WHEAT JUDGE
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
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.
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
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.
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).
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.
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 ...