Contrary to popular thinking, a West Virginia DUI case isn’t simply a matter of having a suspected drunk driver blow into a breathalyzer and waiting to see what number comes up. There are various steps that police officers must take to show that they had adequate reason for stopping a car in the first place and for later administering a breath test. As the state Supreme Court recently explained, officers also have to dot certain I’s and cross other T’s in order for a DUI charge to stand.
Mr. Ellison was arrested and charged with DUI after being pulled over by a police officer while driving in Pocahontas County. He declined to take a sobriety test three different times during the test and was later taken to a state police detachment, where he was administered an Intoximeter breath alcohol test by the officer. This test revealed that Ellison’s blood alcohol content (BAC) was above the legal limit for drivers. The Department of Motor Vehicles revoked his driver’s license for six months.
The West Virginia Office of Administrative Hearings later rescinded the license revocation order, however. The OAH identified a number of inaccuracies and other problems with the DUI information sheet completed by the arresting officer and used as the basis for the revocation. For example, the officer wrote on the info sheet that he’d pulled Ellison over after observing him cross a median line on the road where he was driving. The officer later acknowledged that there was no median line marked on the road. The OAH also found that the officer incorrectly stated the dates on which he was trained and certified for using the Intoximeter and stated that his initial contact with Ellison and his arrest of Ellison occurred at the same time. He further stated that the first Intoximeter test took place nine minutes after Ellison’s arrest. Officers are generally required to wait 15 minutes before administering the test.
The Circuit Court of Kanawha County later affirmed the OAH decision, finding that the officer’s testimony had been inconsistent with the information sheet. The Supreme Court also upheld the OAH decision on further appeal.
The high court said it wasn’t sure whether the inaccuracies on the information sheet were mere typographical errors or something more sinister, like incorrect procedure. It added, however, that factual determinations like these are generally subject to the OAH’s deference. “In this case, the OAH heard the testimony of the officer and reviewed the DUI Information Sheet included in the record before it,” the Court explained. “In employing the deference afforded to such findings, we cannot find that the OAH’s conclusions on this point were clearly wrong.”
This might seem like a lucky coincidence for Mr. Ellison, but the fact is that the law requires police officers to follow certain procedures in making DUI and other arrests. It also requires them to document that those procedures have been satisfied in order for the arrest to hold up in court.
If you or a loved one has been charged with driving under the influence, the West Virginia DUI defense lawyers at the Wolfe Law Firm can help. Our firm has 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.
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