Dave Stafford for www.theindianalawyer.com
Indiana law does not require trial courts to conduct a hearing on petitions for specialized driving privileges where claims lack merit, an Indiana Court of Appeals panel unanimously ruled Wednesday in deciding a matter of the first impression.
Brent Orange had petitioned the Hamilton Superior Court for a specialized license that would permit him to drive back and forth to work and to court-ordered Alcoholics Anonymous and probation meetings. The trial court denied Orange’s petition, issuing an order that adopted his proposed order but stripped from it all language regarding the scheduling of a hearing.
Orange conceded in his brief “that I.C. § 9-30-16-1 et seq. does not say a trial court must hold a hearing on a petition for specialized driving privileges, but neither does the statute contain an express provision permitting a trial court to summarily deny such a petition.”
Judge Melissa May wrote for the Court of Appeals panel that affirmed the denial of Orange’s petition. She noted the legislature amended the statutes in question in 2015, repealing language that said in such cases the prosecuting attorney “shall appear in person or by the deputy and be heard by the court.”
However, the panel advised, “While a trial court is not required to hold a hearing under the statute, it may still err if it fails to grant a petitioner’s request for a hearing when the petition raises claims of possible merit.” This wasn’t the case for Orange, adjudicated a habitual traffic violator multiple times and whose driving record of the past 10 years contained 27 different suspensions and whose eligibility date is “indefinite.”
Even though the court found Orange had waived his arguments, “there can be no question that the trial court properly exercised its discretion when it denied Orange’s petition for specialized driving privileges. … Additionally, the trial court did not err when it did not hold a hearing because Orange’s petition did not assert any claims of merit.”