DUI Crash at WVU Football Game Raises Vehicle Stop, Evidence Issues – Commissioner v. Brewer

In order for police officers to administer a blood alcohol test to a driver suspected of driving under the influence, they first need to have a good reason for pulling the driver over. A recent state Supreme Court case provides a good example of just how complicated that issue can get.

instrument-panel-1407935-m.jpgBrewer was arrested and charged with DUI following an October 2010 incident in which he allegedly struck a state police trooper with his car. Brewer was leaving a West Virginia University football game at the time, and Trooper Newman was directing traffic with another officer (Trooper Harmon) near the stadium in Morgantown. A third officer, Trooper Celapino, was sent to the scene to investigate after the accident.

Harmon told Celapino that Brewer failed all three field sobriety tests that he administered on him before Celapino arrived and that a breath test showed that his blood alcohol content was near 0.14 percent. Both Harmon and Celapino said they smelled alcohol on his breath and that his eyes appeared glassy. Nevertheless, Harmon said Brewer got out of his car, walked and stood normally, and that he was polite to the officers at all times. Although a secondary test showed that Brewer’s BAC level was more than 0.15 percent (almost twice the legal limit), he said he’d drunk four beers during the game and denied being under the influence when the accident happened.

The DMV later sought to revoke Brewer’s driving privileges, and its Office of Administrative Judges held a hearing on the matter in May 2011. The judge refused to admit as evidence the DUI information sheet that Celapino completed as part of his investigation, however, finding that it was based on hearsay. “Hearsay” is a statement offered at trial by a person other than the one who made the statement and offered in order to prove the truth of the matter asserted in the statement. In this case, the judge said Celapino’s report was based on statements made by Harmon regarding the accident and the filed tests for the purpose of proving that Brewer was drunk at the time of the crash.

Since the nature of the crash couldn’t be proved, the judge said he couldn’t determine whether the officers had reasonable suspicion to support stopping Brewer and administering the BAC tests. The only other evidence remaining, according to the judge, was Celapino’s statement that he smelled alcohol on Brewer’s breath and that her eyes were glassy. The judge said this wasn’t enough to justify revoking Brewer’s license. A circuit court later upheld the decision.

The Supreme Court disagreed. “Based upon our review of the record, it is clear that the hearing examiner and the circuit court disregarded the evidence that respondent’s vehicle was stopped after he struck an officer who was directing traffic,” the Court explained. “Under such a circumstance, we find that the officers on the scene were justified in stopping respondent’s vehicle.” While Celapino might not have been at the scene when the accident happened, the Court said it wasn’t disputed that Brewer was driving the car when it hit Newman and that he was stopped because of this accident. Moreover, the Court noted that it was Celapino who personally administered the second chemical test showing that Brewer’s BAC was well over the legal limit.

As a result, the Court reinstated the revocation of Brewer’s license.

This is just one example of the complicated legal issues that often arise in DUI cases. The West Virginia DUI lawyers at the Wolfe Law Firm have been serving clients throughout the state for more than 25 years. Call us at 1-877-637-5756 or contact us online for a free consultation.

Related blog posts:

West Virginia’s DUI Implied Consent Law Could Costs Drivers their Licenses – Dale v. Reed

Criminal Sentencing in West Virginia: Different Strokes for Different Folks – State v. Clark

West Virginia Supreme Court Justice’s Son Arrested For DUI, Drug Possession

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