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United States of America v. Sean Harrington

November 3, 2011

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
SEAN HARRINGTON, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Michael J. Seng U.S. Magistrate Judge

ORDER DENYING DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO DISMISS AND STATEMENT OF DECISION

I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

This case came on for trial before the undersigned on September 9, 2011. Attorney Brian Mullins, Federal Defender, appeared on behalf of the Defendant, Sean Harrington, who also was present. United States Government Acting Legal Officers Rachel Cartier and Thomas Kunder appeared on behalf of the government. Local Rule 180(b)(4)(A).

The matter proceeded to trial on a single count, Count 2, of the June 13, 2011, Criminal Complaint, alleging that on or about June 10, 2011, in Yosemite National Park, Defendant violated 36 C.F.R. § 4.23(c)(2) by refusing to submit to a blood test for the purpose of determining blood alcohol and drug content. Defendant pled guilty to Counts 3, 4, and 5 of the Criminal Complaint and was found guilty thereunder of violating 36 C.F.R. § 4.14 (having an open container of alcohol in his vehicle), § 2.35(b)(2) (possession of marijuana) and § 4.12 (failure to comply with the directions of a traffic control device); the government agreed to and did dismiss Count 1 (driving under the influence) and Count 6 (failure to comply with public use limits).

As to Count 2, evidence, both documentary and testimonial, was received at trial and the matter was argued. At the conclusion of the evidence and argument, the Court announced that for reasons recited on the record it found that there had been probable cause and legal authority to justify law enforcement's request that Defendant submit to a blood test. The Court also found that Defendant had definitively communicated his refusal to submit to that blood test. However, the parties were invited to submit post-trial briefs on the effect of the failure by law enforcement to advise Defendant correctly of the repercussions under federal law of a refusal to be tested.

In his post trial briefing on that issue, Defendant also invoked his right, pursuant to Fed. R. Crim. P. 12(b)(3)(B), to move to dismiss Count 2 of the Criminal Complaint on the grounds that the regulation creating the offense charged therein is superceded by 18 U.S.C. § 3118.

Both issues have been fully briefed by the parties and are addressed below.

II. MOTION TO DISMISS

Fed. R. Crim. P. 12(b)(3)(B) allows the Court to hear at any time while a case is pending a claim that the indictment or information fails to invoke the Court's jurisdiction or to state an offense. Defendant asserts that Count 2 of the criminal complaint can not state an offense because the regulation allegedly violated was superseded by 18 U.S.C. § 3118.

As noted, Count 2 of the criminal complaint alleges that Defendant violated 36 C.F.R. § 4.23(c)(2) by refusing to submit to a test of his blood*fn1 for the purpose of determining blood alcohol and drug content. Defendant argues that this National Park Service regulation, conviction of which carries with it up to six months imprisonment and/or a $5000.00 fine, is superseded by 18 U.S.C. § 3118 which provides administrative and evidentiary penalties for refusing such a test.

Specifically, 18 U.S.C. § 3118(a) provides that whoever operates a motor vehicle in the special territorial jurisdiction of the United States consents to a chemical test of his blood, breath, or urine, if arrested for any offense arising from his driving while under the influence of a drug or alcohol. Section (b) thereof sets forth the "Effect of Refusal":

Whoever . . . refuses to submit to such a test or tests, after having first been advised of the consequences of such a refusal, shall be denied the privilege of operating a motor vehicle upon the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States during the period of a year commencing on the date of arrest upon which such test or tests was refused, and such refusal may be admitted into evidence in any case arising from such person's driving while under the influence of a drug or alcohol in such jurisdiction.

Defendant argues that in enacting Section 3118(b) Congress created a civil penalty (suspension of driving privileges on federal property) and an evidentiary penalty (admissibility of the refusal in a prosecution for driving under the influence). United States v. Love, 141 F.R.D. 315, 319 (D. Col. 1992) (explaining that 18 U.S.C. § 3118 provides a civil, not a criminal, penalty.)

Defendant claims that the Secretary of the Interior exceeded his authority in enacting 36 C.F.R. ยง 4.23(c)(2), a regulation that makes a crime of the same activity covered by Section 3118. Defendant notes, correctly, that the Secretary's power to enact regulations to administer a federal statute and carry into effect Congress' will as expressed in the statute is not the power to make laws; "a regulation which operates to create a rule out of harmony with the ...


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