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Iowa Court Finds Driver's License Cannot Be Revoked Ex Post Facto


November 1995

The Iowa Supreme Court ruled on July 14 that revocation of a driver's license for a controlled substance offense cannot be applied to offenses that occurred before the law went into effect (Hills v. Iowa Department of Transportation and Motor Vehicle Division, No. 111/94-453, 534 N.W. 2d 640 (Iowa SCt 1995).

Wanda Joy Hills was arrested for driving under the influence on April 1, 1993. When police searched her car, they discovered marijuana. Her pretrial conference was scheduled for June 29, 1993, at which she had planned to plead guilty. The district court changed the date of that hearing to July 2, 1993, and Hills entered a guilty plea then. The day before, a new law requiring revocation of a person's driver's license for a controlled substance violation took effect. Because of Hills' guilty plea on July 2, the Department of Transportation revoked her license.

The district court reversed the revocation, and the Iowa Supreme Court affirmed. The courts found that revocation of a driver's license is a punishment and therefore is subject to the ex post facto prohibition. If the revocation had been ruled a civil penalty, then the prohibition would not apply. The court found no direct connection between possession of controlled substances, driving, and public safety:

Persons who illegally possess drugs are of course subject to appropriate criminal punishment. But many such persons choose not to drive. When they do not, they do not affect highway safety. Any connection between drugs, driving, and public safety is at most indirect. The amended statute authorizing this license revocation was aimed essentially at enhancing punishment for controlled substance possession. As such it was quasi-criminal and not civil in nature.