IN THE COURT OF CRIMINAL APPEALS

OF TEXAS




NO. 756-00

JENNIFER ALLEN, Appellant

v.



THE STATE OF TEXAS




ON STATE'S PETITION FOR DISCRETIONARY REVIEW

FROM THE FIRST COURT OF APPEALS

HARRIS COUNTY


Hervey, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, joined by Meyers, Price, Womack, Keasler, and Holcomb, J.J. Price, J., filed a concurring opinion. Holland, J., filed a dissenting opinion, joined by Keller, P.J., and Johnson, J.

OPINION







The appellant was convicted by a jury of driving with a suspended license. The First Court of Appeals reversed her conviction holding that failure to pay a reinstatement fee did not continue the period of appellant's license suspension beyond the statutory 90 day period. We affirm holding that at the conclusion of the statutory 90 day suspension period, the appellant's failure to pay the $100 fee effectively rendered her status as one driving without a license.

The appellant was arrested on November 27, 1996, for suspicion of driving while intoxicated. After her arrest, she refused to submit to the taking of a specimen of her breath as requested. Because of her refusal, she had her driver's license suspended for 90 days pursuant to Texas Transportation Code 724.035. (1)

Her driver's license was suspended by the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) from January 8, 1997, through April 5, 1997. On August 22, 1997, more than four months after the suspension period ended, the appellant was involved in a traffic accident. The responding officer ran a check on her driver's license and found that the license was still suspended. The appellant was unaware of the suspended status of her license. She had not received notice from DPS because she had moved without informing the Department of her address change. She was subsequently convicted by a jury and sentenced to 30 days in jail (probated for six months) and fined $150 for driving with a suspended license. DPS continued the suspension of the appellant's driver's license beyond April 5, 1997, because a $100 reinstatement fee had not been paid to the Department as required according to its reading of Texas Transportation Code 724.046(a). (2)

The appellant's conviction was reversed by the First Court of Appeals. The Court of Appeals found that 724.046(a) of the Transportation Code did not continue the suspension of a driver's license beyond the 90 day period prescribed under 724.035 of the same code. Applying rules of statutory construction found in the Texas Government Code, (3) the Court of Appeals determined that the legislature intended 724.046(a) of the Transportation Code to be a revenue raising provision to offset the cost of administering the license suspension program. The Court of Appeals did not find that the legislature intended 724.046(a) of the Transportation Code to extend a period of suspension until the reinstatement fee was paid.

In analyzing the meaning of 724.046(a) we begin by looking at its language. Ex parte Evans, 964 S.W.2d 643, 646 (Tex. Crim. App. 1998). "If the language of a statute is not ambiguous, we must give effect to the plain meaning of its words unless doing so would lead to absurd results." Ex parte Torres, 943 S.W.2d 469, 472 (Tex. Crim. App. 1997). We read the plain language of the text of 724.046(a) of the Transportation Code to require the procurement of a new license once the 90 day suspension period has expired and the $100 fee is not paid. Requiring a reinstatement fee to be paid before ending a suspension would otherwise create suspensions of indefinite length. The statute under which the appellant's license was suspended prescribed a definite period of suspension (90 days). See Tex. Transp. Code Ann. 724.035 (Vernon 1999). Thus the Court of Appeals was correct.

The State complains that the Court of Appeals did not defer to DPS's consistent application of its interpretation of the statute. In construing a statute, the court is required to give weight to the interpretation given by the agency charged with enforcing the statute as long as that interpretation follows legislative intent. See Texas Water Comm'n v. Brushy Creek Mun. Utility Dist., 917 S.W.2d 19, 21 (Tex. 1996). The Court of Appeals did consider the interpretation of the statute given by DPS and found it to be inharmonious with the intent of the legislature. See Allen v. State, 11 S.W.3d 474, 479 (Tex. App. - Houston, 2000, pet. granted).

The State also complains that the Court of Appeals decision renders Transportation Code 724.046(a) "wholly unenforceable" by allowing drivers to disregard the law by refusing to pay the reinstatement fee without any consequences. This argument ignores other possible penalties under the Code. While the Court of Appeals ruling may seem to deny DPS a tool for collection of the reinstatement fee, there are other consequences for drivers in the appellant's situation. Because the appellant had not notified DPS of her change of address as required under Transportation Code 521.045, she is subject to penalties under that provision. She also did not surrender her driver's license upon request as required under Transportation Code 521.451(4), a Class B misdemeanor. See Tex. Transp. Code Ann. 721.451 (Vernon 1999). The appellant would not have been able to display a license on demand, (to an officer) in violation of Transportation Code 521.025, a misdemeanor punishable by a fine up to $200 with increasing penalties for subsequent violations. See Tex. Transp. Code Ann. 521.025 (Vernon 1999). In addition to the preceding statutes, Transportation Code 521.461 allows for a fine up to $200 for violating provisions of the chapter without specific penalties. See Tex. Transp. Code Ann. 521.461 (Vernon 1999).

Whether Transportation Code 724.046(a) creates a continuing period of license suspension or not is an issue of first impression in this Court. If the legislative intent behind laws governing the suspension of licenses is to promote public safety of motorists, (4) the collection of an administrative fee does nothing to accomplish that intent and has no direct impact on the public safety of motorists.

Furthermore, Section 521.374(b) reads, "The period of suspension or prohibition under Section 521.372(c) continues for an indefinite period of time until the individual successfully completes the educational program." (5) Tex. Transp. Code 521.374(b). If the legislature intended the suspension to continue beyond the ninety-day period required by section 724.035 until the $100 fee was paid, then it could have used language like that in section 521.374(b). Because such language was not used, the period of suspension is not extended by failure to pay the fee.

For the forgoing reasons, we affirm the Court of Appeals. The nonpayment of the reinstatement fee under Texas Transportation Code 724.046(a) does not continue the statutorily mandated 90 day suspension period under Texas Transportation Code 724.035.



HERVEY, J.

Delivered: June 27, 2001

Publish.

1. 724.035. Suspension or Denial of License



(a) If a person refuses the request of a peace officer to submit to the taking of a specimen, the department shall:



(1) suspend the person's license to operate a motor vehicle on a public highway for 90 days if the person is 21 years of age or older or 120 days if the person is younger than 21 years of age; or...

See Tex. Transp. Code Ann. 724.035 (Vernon 1999).

2. 724.046. Reinstatement of License or Issuance of New License



(a) A license suspended under this chapter may not be reinstated or a new license issued until the person whose license has been suspended pays to the department a fee of $100 in addition to any other fee required by law. A person subject to a denial order issued under this chapter may not obtain a license after the period of denial has ended until the person pays to the department a fee of $100 in addition to any other fee required by law.

See Tex. Transp. Code Ann. 724.046 (Vernon 1999).

3. See Tex. Gov't Code Ann. 311.023 (Vernon 1999).

4. "Laws subjecting intoxicated motorists to suspensions of driving licenses are intended to remove dangerous drivers from roadways to protect both themselves and other motorists." See Texas Dept. of Public Safety v. Dear, 999 S.W.2d 148, 152 (Tex. App. - Austin 1999, no pet.).

5. Section 521.372(c) reads in relevant part, "Except as provided by Section 521.374(b), the period of suspension under this section is 180 days after the date of final conviction...."