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Unrepresented Motorist Falls Prey to PADOT's Use of Evidentiary Rules on Appeal

License suspension appeal for failure to maintain financial responsiblity may be won by PADOT independent of "not guilty" verdict on underlying offense.


In Pangallo v. DOT, Bureau of Driver Licensing, 2013 Pa. Commw. LEXIS 112 (Pa. Commw. Ct. Apr. 18, 2013), a motorist was convicted before a magisterial district court of 75 Pa.C.S. Section 1786(f). On appeal, the trial court agreed to amend the offense to two summary disorderly conducts. He also appealed, pro se, his license suspension for 3 months based upon the earlier conviction and citation for a violation of 1786(f)- failure to maintain financial responsibility (insurance). The appellant/motorist testified at the license suspension hearing that he drove his ATV across the roadway without insurance. The trial court ruled that he could not be suspended because of the order of the other trial judge which held that he was "not guilty" of 1786(f). Penn Dot appealed to the Commonwealth Court.

The Commonwealth Court reversed the decision of the trial court, which upheld the motorist's appeal of his suspension. It determined that:

The licensee's testimony, elicited during PennDOT's case-in-chief and which was not introduced to collaterally attack the finding of not guilty in the criminal proceeding, established that he was without insurance and operated the vehicle during the period in question. Because the testimony proffered did not attack the not guilty finding, it should not have been precluded and was a substantial basis to support the suspension of the license under §1786(d).

Had the appellant/motorist not testified that he operated the vehicle in violation of the financial responsibility law (driving without insurance), he likely would have had his suspension reversed by the lower court and there wouldn't have been an issue that PADOT could have won on in the Common-wealth Court. He should have simply objected to any testimony or record of the conviction at the magisterial district court level and introduced the dismissal of the 1786(f) charge by the trial court. Any attempt at rebuttal by PADOT would have been a collateral attack on the trial court's verdict and should have been properly disallowed. Here, however, the motorist got up on the stand and testified to what happened. The record of his insurance-based offense was, therefore, made. No collateral attack was necessary.

If you have been charged with a traffic offense, learn what the possible consequences to your license may be before you proceed before the court. You may contact Shaffer & Engle Law Offices, LLC (717) 268-4287.