West Virginia Supreme Court Upholds DMV’s Decision to Revoke Licenses Due to DUIs

road-ahead-closed-589399-m.jpgRecently, the West Virginia Supreme Court held that two vehicle stops for DUIs, which led to the drivers getting their licenses revoked, were valid stops and therefore the DMV’s orders revoking the licenses should remain.

In Dale v. Odem, the Supreme Court heard both cases together before issuing its decision. In the first case, James Odum was driving in the early morning hours of September 2010, when he allegedly ran a red light and drove into oncoming traffic, almost striking a Beckley patrol officer’s vehicle. The patrol officer pulled Odum’s vehicle over, and he and another officer smelled the distinct odor of alcohol coming from inside. The patrol officer asked Odum to exit his vehicle and take part in a few field sobriety tests. Odum’s speech sounded slow and slurred, and his eyes appeared glassy and bloodshot. Odum failed the tests, and a breath test revealed that his blood alcohol level was .168, far over the legal limit. Odum was taken into police custody for driving under the influence, where he refused to sign a consent form or submit to a second chemical test. Because of the refusal, and because he drove under the influence, the DMV later revoked Odum’s license. However, the Office of Administrative Hearings reversed the order, concluding that the evidence did not show a valid stop, and therefore that Odum had been lawfully arrested for driving under the influence.

In the second case, in November 2010, a state trooper visited the scene of a driver, Chad Doyle, who had already been stopped for possible intoxication. Doyle allegedly told the trooper that he was on his way to the race track and had consumed five beers. The trooper noted that Doyle’s eyes appeared blood shot and his breath smelled strongly of alcohol. The trooper instructed Doyle to exit his vehicle in order to conduct field sobriety tests, which Doyle proceeded to fail. Doyle was then arrested for driving under the influence and brought to the Charles Town Police Department for processing. There, a secondary chemical test was performed with Doyle’s consent, which showed his blood alcohol level to be .107. The DMV issued an order revoking Doyle’s license, but at the Office of Administrative Hearings, the order was again reversed, with the hearing officer noting that the trooper did not personally observe Doyle operating the vehicle, and the one who did had not appeared at the hearing. Therefore, there was insufficient evidence of a valid stop.

The state DMV appealed both cases. In its review, the West Virginia Supreme Court noted that one reason Odum’s stop was ruled invalid was because the arresting officer was outside of his usual jurisdiction. However, the Court stated that past case law has found that officers outside of their jurisdiction have the common law power of private citizens to arrest. Given that the patrol officer saw Odum driving erratically, he had reason to conclude that Odum’s driving was sufficient probable cause to suspect he was driving under the influence.

In Doyle’s case, the Supreme Court found that even though the trooper was not present when Doyle was pulled over, the paperwork of the officer who did pull him over was sufficient to show that Doyle’s stop was valid. The trooper therefore acted lawfully in arresting Doyle for being under the influence.

The Wolfe Law Firm has been providing legal services for nearly 25 years. Located in Elkins, West Virginia, the firm provides services in the areas of personal injury, criminal defense, bankruptcy, and mediation. If you are looking for an experienced West Virginia personal injury attorney, contact us today.

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