September 23, 2005
CONFISCATION OF DRIVER'S LICENSE BY POLICE OFFICER
By: James J. Fazzalaro, Principal Analyst
You asked for the source of the authority for police officers to confiscate someone's driver's license at the scene of an accident or alleged motor vehicle violation. You also wanted to know if the license has been suspended and the motorist is prohibited from driving during the period the license has been taken.
There appears to be no law that explicitly grants police officers such authority. But a Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) regulation authorizes police who have apprehended or arrested a driver they believe is unfit to operate a vehicle without endangering public safety due to his physical or mental condition to suspend the person's license on behalf of the DMV commissioner and forward it to the DMV within 24 hours with a statement and explanation of the offense or violation. The regulation appears to allow the police to act even if the violation that caused the driver to be stopped did not result in an arrest. The regulation vests the actual authority to act in this capacity in the officer who is in charge of the police barracks, precinct, or police station rather than in the patrol officer.
The regulation was promulgated in 1971 under a statute that requires, among other things, drivers to provide name and address information to police officers and certain others and to produce their licenses, registrations, and insurance identification cards when the officer demands them, but which contains no specific authorization for police confiscation of a license.
When a police officer confiscates someone's license under the authority granted by the DMV regulation, he must forward it to the DMV within 24 hours with a statement and explanation of the offense involved. DMV immediately mails the person a notice of “license withdrawal” and other documents that give him these options: he may (1) surrender his license (and either request or not request a free non-driver identification card), (2) immediately file medical forms to show he is a fit operator, or (3) request a DMV administrative hearing.
Selection of the latter two options could result in restoration of his full license or issuance of a limited license, but these usually require him to at least retake the road skills portion of the license test. In any case, his license remains withdrawn indefinitely during the entire period his case is being resolved. The license is, in effect, suspended and the person may not drive until the matter is resolved.
DMV REGULATION AND UNDERLYING STATUTE
There is no law that explicitly grants police officers the authority you describe, but a DMV regulation authorizes police to summarily suspend a license under certain conditions on behalf of the DMV commissioner and forward it to the DMV for further action. Specifically, this regulation states:
“Upon the apprehension or arrest of any person operating a motor vehicle on the highways of this state who in the judgment of the officer in charge of any established police barracks, precinct or police station is an unfit person to operate a motor vehicle without endangering the safety of the public due to his physical or mental condition, the operator's license of such person shall be suspended and such officer may, in the name and on behalf of the commissioner, take possession of the operator's license of such person and forward the same to the commissioner's office within twenty-four hours, together with a brief statement and explanation of the offense or violation. (Conn. Agencies Regs. § 14-217-1)
Based on the wording of the regulation (“upon the apprehension or arrest of any person”), it appears that the police officer does not necessarily have to arrest the person in order to take his license. But it also appears implied that there must be some offense or violation that formed a basis for the person's apprehension by the police officer.
The regulation was promulgated by the DMV in 1971. The statute under which it was issued (CGS § 14-217) establishes certain requirements for drivers with respect to providing pertinent information to a police officer when requested. Specifically, it prohibits a driver from:
1. (a) refusing to give his name and address and the name and address of the vehicle's owner, or (b) giving a false name or address when requested by any police officer in uniform or an authorized agent of the DMV commissioner who presents appropriate credentials or, if his vehicle is involved in an accident, by any other person;
2. refusing to produce his registration certificate, license, or automobile insurance identification card upon demand of the officer or authorized agent;
3. preventing such officer or agent from taking the registration, license, or insurance card in hand for purpose of examination; and
4. upon the officer's or agent's demand and in his presence, refusing to sign his name.
The law also prohibits someone from refusing to surrender his driver's license, registration certificate, insurance identification card, or vehicle license plates “on demand of the commissioner” or to fail to produce his license when requested by a court. Violations of any of these statutory requirements are infractions that result in a total of $158 in fines, fees, and surcharges if paid by mail to the Centralized Infractions Bureau.
There is no explicit language in this statute that provides direct authority for the type of summary license suspension the DMV regulation gives police when they determine someone they have stopped or arrested is unfit to drive due to a physical or mental condition.
ACTIONS UNDER THE REGULATION
DMV sends a “notice of withdrawal” to the driver by certified mail on the day it receives the license and report from the police department that confiscated the license. This informs the driver that his license has been withdrawn for an indefinite period as of the date it was taken by the
officer and states the reason (i.e., the officer has reason to believe the driver was incapable of safely operating a vehicle). The person also receives a “show cause” letter and a questionnaire. The show cause letter informs the person of the four options available to him. These options are:
1. relinquish his driver's license and have a non-driver identification card issued to him at no charge,
2. relinquish his license and not request a non-driver identification card,
3. file medical forms, or
4. request an administrative hearing.
DMV will enclose the appropriate medical report forms, depending on the nature of the condition the police officer indicated in his report, in case the person chooses this option. Choosing the option of filing medical forms does not foreclose the person's right to request an administrative hearing at a later date.
The person whose license has been withdrawn has 30 days to return the form indicating the option he has selected; but his license remains withdrawn during this period and for the entire period during which medical forms must be filed or an administrative hearing scheduled and held. If a hearing is held, the hearing officer has 90 days to render a decision and can require the person to take and pass a road skills test before making a decision. The license remains withdrawn throughout this period as well.
If the person chooses to file medical forms to show that he is a fit person to drive, they must be filed within 90 days and be based on “recent examinations.” If medical forms are filed that are favorable to the driver, DMV may schedule him for a road skills test after which his license could be restored or he could be issued a restricted license under DMV's graduated license program. Under this program, the person's license could contain certain restrictions such as daytime-only driving, non-limited access highway driving, or the use of special equipment (Conn. Agencies Regs. § 14-36-4).
If the medical reports are unfavorable to the driver whose license has been withdrawn, the records are forwarded to the DMV Medical Advisory Board, which may make a recommendation to the commissioner on the person's fitness to drive. The person must be informed by DMV that the information has been forwarded to the advisory board.
Following recommendations from the medical advisory board, the person could be allowed to take and pass the licensing test. Should he fail the test, he can retake it up to a total of three times.