Mackey v. Montrym
443 U.S. 1 (1979)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Mackey v. Montrym, 443 U.S. 1 (1979)

Mackey v. Montrym

No. 77-69

Argued November 29, 1979

Decided June 25, 1979

443 U.S. 1

Syllabus

A Massachusetts statute mandates suspension of a driver's license for refusing to take a breath-analysis test upon arrest for operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of intoxicating liquor. The Registrar of Motor Vehicles must order a 90-day suspension upon receipt of the police report of the licensee's refusal to take such test; the licensee, after surrendering his license, is entitled to an immediate hearing before the Registrar. Appellee, whose license was suspended under the statute, brought a class action in Federal District Court alleging that the Massachusetts statute was unconstitutional on its face and as applied in that it authorized the suspension of his license without affording him a pre-suspension hearing. The District Court held that appellee was entitled as a matter of due process to some sort of pre-suspension hearing, declared the statute unconstitutional on its face as violative of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, and granted injunctive relief.

Held: The Massachusetts statute is not void on its face as violative of the Due Process Clause. Cf. Dixon v. Love,431 U. S. 105. Pp. 443 U. S. 10-19.

(a) Suspension of a driver's license for statutorily defined cause implicates a property interest protected by the Due Process Clause. Resolution of the question of what process is due to protect against an erroneous deprivation of a protectible property interest requires consideration

Page 443 U. S. 2

of (i) the nature and weight of the private interest affected by the official action challenged; (ii) the risk of an erroneous deprivation of such interest as a consequence of the summary procedures used; and (iii) the governmental function involved and state interests served by such procedures, as well as the administrative and fiscal burdens, if any, that would result from the substitute procedures sought. Mathews v. Eldridge,424 U. S. 319. Pp. 443 U. S. 10-11.

(b) Here, neither the nature of the private interest involved -- the licensee's interest in the continued possession and use of his license pending the outcome of the hearing due him -- nor its weight compels a conclusion that the summary suspension procedures are unconstitutional, particularly in view of the post-suspension hearing immediately available and of the fact that the suspension is for a maximum of only 90 days. Pp. 443 U. S. 11-12.

(c) Nor is the risk of error inherent in the pre-suspension procedure so substantial in itself as to require a departure from the "ordinary principle" that "something less than an evidentiary hearing is sufficient prior to adverse administrative action." Dixon v. Love, supra, at 431 U. S. 113. The risk of erroneous observation or deliberate misrepresentation by the reporting police officer of the facts forming the basis for the suspension is insubstantial. When there are disputed facts, the risk of error inherent in the statute's initial reliance on the reporting officer's representations is not so substantial, in itself, as to require the Commonwealth to stay its hand pending the outcome of any evidentiary hearing necessary to resolve questions of credibility or conflicts in the evidence. Pp. 443 U. S. 13-17.

(d) Finally, the compelling interest in highway safety justifies Massachusetts in making a summary suspension effective pending the outcome of the available prompt post-suspension hearing. Such interest is substantially served by the summary suspension because (i) it acts as a deterrent to drunk driving; (ii) provides an inducement to take the breath-analysis test, permitting the Commonwealth to obtain a reliable form of evidence for use in subsequent criminal proceedings; and (iii) summarily removes from the road licensees arrested for drunk driving who refuse to take the test. Conversely, a pre-suspension hearing would substantially undermine the Commonwealth's interest in public safety by giving drivers an incentive to refuse the breath-analysis test and demand such a hearing as a dilatory tactic, which, in turn, would cause a sharp increase in the number of hearings sought, and thus impose a substantial fiscal and administrative burden on the Commonwealth. Nor is it any answer to the Commonwealth's interest in public safety

Page 443 U. S. 3

promoted by the summary sanction that such interest could be served as well in other ways. A state has the right to offer incentives for taking tho breath-analysis test and, in exercising its police powers, is not required by the Due Process Clause to adopt an "all or nothing" approach to the acute safety hazard posed by drunk driver. Pp. 443 U. S. 17-19.

429 F.Supp. 393, reversed and remanded.

BURGER, C.J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which WHITE, BLACKMUN, POWELL, and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined. STEWART, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN, MARSHALL, and STEVENS, JJ., joined, post, p. 443 U. S. 19.

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