PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — The South Dakota Supreme Court agrees that the state Department of Public Safety shouldn’t have suspended the commercial driver license of a motorcyclist who pleaded guilty to a felony crime of ingesting methamphetamine.
In a unanimous opinion released Thursday, the five justices upheld the decision from Circuit Judge Michelle Comer. The circuit judge had determined that the prosecutor never showed where or when Russell C. Stanley took the methamphetamine.
State law allows DPS to disqualify a person’s CDL after certain felony convictions.
A law enforcement officer stopped the Honeoye Falls, New York, driver on SD79 in Meade County on August 12, 2020, at about 12:15 a.m. Stanley was arrested for first-offense DUI and unauthorized ingestion of a controlled substance. The DUI charge later was dropped and Stanley pleaded guilty to the ingestion charge.
Stanley was fined $1,000 plus costs and placed on probation for one year. DPS then notified Stanley that his CDL would be disqualified for one year. He appealed. A state hearing examiner ruled in favor of the disqualification. DPS issued the disqualification notice on July 1, 2021.
Stanley then appealed the CDL disqualification to circuit court, where Judge Comer found in his favor. In her June 12, 2022, reversal, the judge said the state law allowing disqualification of the CDL referred specifically to conviction on a violation of a traffic law.
“Neither the Department nor the OHE (Office of Hearing Examiners) made any determination of whether Unauthorized Ingestion is a violation of a traffic control law,” she wrote. She noted, “There is no evidence Stanley ingested while driving. There is no evidence when Stanley ingested. There is no evidence where Stanley ingested. There is no evidence Stanley was under the influence of the controlled substance and in fact the DUI (alcohol/drugs) charge was dismissed. There is no evidence of the amount of the controlled substance in Stanley’s system.”
Special Assistant Attorney General Edward Hruska appealed the CDL reversal to the Supreme Court on June 29, 2022. Chief Justice Steven Jensen wrote the Supreme Court opinion issued Thursday. The chief justice referred to the high court’s 2021 Ibrahim decision.
Judge Comer referred to the Ibrahim decision in reaching her decision on the disqualification of the CDL. Hruska had also been the special assistant attorney general in the Ibrahim case. The high court ruled in the state’s favor in Ibrahim but ruled for the defendant in Stanley’s case.
“There is no evidence or showing that Stanley utilized the motorcycle to commit the crime of ingestion of a controlled substance. The offense as committed by Stanley in this case is therefore not subject to mandatory CDL disqualification,” Chief Justice Jensen wrote.