United States v. Harrington

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Criminal Law
  • Date Filed: 04-18-2014
  • Case #: 12-10526
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Noonan for the Court; Circuit Judges Reinhardt and Hurwitz
  • Full Text Opinion

Due process is violated when a park ranger in a national park does not inform a suspected drunk driver that refusal to submit to a breath or chemical test is a freestanding offense that is punishable with a fine or imprisonment.

In June 2001, Sean Harrington was arrested in Yosemite National Park for suspicion of driving under the influence (“DUI”). Harrington refused a field sobriety test and was taken to the police station. Both the ranger who arrested Harrington and the ranger at the jail read Harrington the California admonition. Under California law, a DUI suspect’s failure to take a blood alcohol test will result in the loss of driving privileges, and can be used against the alleged drunk driver in trial. If the driver is ultimately convicted of a DUI, then the refusal can also result in a fine and imprisonment. The DUI charge against Harrington was ultimately dropped, but he was found guilty of refusal. Harrington was sentenced to probation and confinement. The Ninth Circuit held that since Harrington was arrested in a national park, federal law applies, not California law, and Harrington should have been read the federal admonition instead. Under 36 C.F.R. § 4.23(c)(2), refusing to submit to a breath test is a separate misdemeanor, which is punishable by up to six months in jail and/or a $5,000 fine, regardless of whether the person is convicted of a DUI. Additionally, the panel reversed the decision of the district court, and held that Harrington was deprived of his Fifth Amendment rights. Using the test developed in Mathews v. Eldridge, the panel held that it was “fundamentally unfair to convict Harrington on the refusal charge when he was told time and again that his refusal to submit to a blood alcohol test was not in itself a crime, even though it was.” REVERSED.

Advanced Search