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State v. Reinhart

Supreme Court of Indiana

December 5, 2018

State of Indiana and Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles Appellants (Respondents below)
Daniel Reinhart Appellee (Petitioner below)

          Argued: June 19, 2018

          Appeal from the Adams Superior Court No. 01D01-1703-MI-12 The Honorable Patrick R. Miller, Judge

         On Petition to Transfer from the Indiana Court of Appeals No. 01A02-1709-MI-2049

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANTS Curtis T. Hill, Jr. Attorney General of Indiana Aaron T. Craft Andrea Rahman Deputy Attorneys General Indianapolis, Indiana

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE Brian J. Johnson Danville, Indiana


          Massa, Justice

         The proper venue for seeking specialized driving privileges depends on whether the petitioner's underlying suspension was court ordered or whether it was imposed administratively by the BMV. The latter suspension type requires the petitioner to seek relief in his or her county of residence; the former requires the petitioner to file in each court that ordered a suspension.

         But where is the proper venue for seeking relief when that person "forfeits" driving privileges for life following a felony conviction for driving while suspended? Because we consider this lifetime forfeiture an administrative suspension, we hold the proper venue is the trial court in a person's county of residence. We thus affirm the trial court's order granting Reinhart's petition for specialized driving privileges.

         Facts and Procedural History

         Daniel Reinhart, a resident of Adams County, is subject to three separate driver's license suspensions. The BMV imposed two of these suspensions, in 2012 and 2015, for habitual traffic violations in Adams County. The third suspension is a lifetime forfeiture resulting from a 2015 felony conviction in Noble County for driving while suspended as a habitual traffic violator. See Ind. Code § 9-30-10-16 (2014) (Section 16).

         In 2017, Reinhart petitioned the Adams Superior Court for specialized driving privileges (SDP), seeking relief from all three suspensions under Indiana Code section 9-30-16-4 (Section 4).[1] Section 4 requires drivers suspended by administrative action of the BMV to petition the court of his or her county of residence. I.C. § 9-30-16-4(d)(1) (2016). But for court-ordered license suspensions, Indiana Code section 9-30-16-3 (Section 3) requires the suspended driver to petition "each court that has ordered or imposed a suspension of the individual's driving privileges." I.C. § 9-30-16-3(b) (2016) (we refer to Sections 3 and 4 collectively as the SDP Statute).

         The Adams Superior Court granted Reinhart's SDP petition, despite the State's questioning of its jurisdiction over the "sentence" imposed by the Noble Superior Court. Tr., p.12. The SDP order stayed all three suspensions for two years, allowing Reinhart to drive to and from work, to visit his children, and to other limited locations (for example, to buy groceries or attend medical appointments) at specified times. The State moved to correct error, arguing that the Adams Superior Court lacked jurisdiction to stay or modify the lifetime forfeiture imposed by the Noble Superior Court. The Adams Superior Court disagreed, characterizing the lifetime forfeiture as an administrative suspension over which it properly exercised jurisdiction.

         Our Court of Appeals reversed and remanded, instructing the trial court to "vacate that portion of its order related to Reinhart's Noble County suspension." State v. Reinhart, 93 N.E.3d 801, 803 (Ind.Ct.App. 2018), vacated. The panel held that the Noble Superior Court ordered Reinhart's lifetime forfeiture, thus requiring him to petition that court separately for SDP. Id. "The fact that the Noble County court was required to suspend his privileges for life does not transform the suspension," the panel explained, "which was part of a criminal sentencing order, into an administrative suspension." Id. The panel also held, contrary to precedent, that the "Adams County trial court lacked jurisdiction to modify the Noble County order" since "one court cannot modify or change the record of another court of equal jurisdiction." Id.; contra Prosecuting Attorney of Hendricks Cty. v. Hammer, 92 N.E.3d 649, 652 (Ind.Ct.App. 2017) (holding that a trial court "has subject matter jurisdiction to adjudicate petitions for specialized driving privileges" when the underlying suspension resulted upon conviction in another trial court).

         Although our General Assembly has since amended Section 16 to remove the lifetime license forfeiture, see Pub. L. No. 188-2015, § 117, 2015 Ind. Acts 2248, 2318-19, we granted transfer to resolve the conflict in our Court of Appeals precedent and to provide a path forward for those in Reinhart's position.

         Standard of Review

         We typically review a trial court's ruling on a motion to correct error for an abuse of discretion. Becker v. State, 992 N.E.2d 697, 700 (Ind. 2013). But when that motion rests on an issue of statutory construction, as it does here, we review the trial court's ruling de novo. Id. Questions of subject-matter jurisdiction fall under the same standard of review. In re Adoption of J.T.D., 21 N.E.3d 824, 827 (Ind. 2014).

         Discussion and Decision

         In 1929, the Indiana General Assembly adopted the state's first law governing the licensing of drivers. See Act of Mar. 13, 1929, ch. 162, 1929 Ind. Acts 499. Among other things, the measure set forth licensing application and renewal procedures, established certain standards for driving competency, and outlined the grounds for the suspension of driving privileges. Id. §§ 5, 7-9, 14, 15-17, 1929 Ind. Acts at 501-04, 506, 507-09. The statute also made it a misdemeanor offense for a person to drive with a "suspended or revoked" license. Id. § 26, 1929 Ind. Acts at 511.

         The modern incarnation of this offense-codified in 1972 by the Habitual Traffic Offender Act-is part of a larger legislative scheme imposing increasingly serious sanctions on a person it defines as a habitual traffic violator (or HTV). See Pub. L. No. 81-1972, § 1, 1972 Ind. Acts 510, 510-17 (codified as amended at I.C. ch. 9-30-10).[2] Within this statutory framework (which we refer to as the HTV Law), a habitual traffic violator faces the suspension of driving privileges for up to ten years, depending on the nature and number of the offenses committed over a ten-year period. See I.C. ยงยง 9-30-10-4, -5. Those caught ...

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