In West Virginia, it’s against the law to let someone whom you know is drunk or under the influence of drugs to drive your car. Not only are you subject to potential jail time and the loss of your license if you make the mistake of getting behind the wheel while intoxicated, but you can face similar penalties if you hand the keys over to a friend who also shouldn’t be driving. The state’s Supreme Court recently explained the scope of this law.
Mr. Uhl was arrested and charged with “knowingly permitting” after an incident in which a police officer pulled over Uhl’s car while Uhl was a passenger in the vehicle. Trooper Phillips was on patrol in Charleston when he said he noticed the vehicle traveling at about 20 miles per hour above the speed limit. He said he noticed the smell of alcohol when he approached the car and observed beer cans inside the vehicle. The trooper also noticed that the driver’s speech was slurred. The driver, who admitted to drinking six or seven beers, then failed a number of field sobriety tests before taking a breathalyzer, which showed that his blood alcohol content was above the legal limit.
The DMV later notified Uhl that it was revoking his driver’s license as a result of the incident. At an administrative hearing that followed, Uhl said that he and two friends had been at the local dog track that day and that he and the driver had been separated most of the time. He said he had been drinking throughout the day and had given the keys to the driver, but he wasn’t sure whether the driver had been drinking. Uhl said he couldn’t recall if he’d seen the driver with a drink in his hand at any point during the day. The Office of Administrative Hearings rescinded the order to revoke Uhl’s license, based on this testimony.
A circuit court later reversed the decision, finding that there was sufficient circumstantial evidence on which to revoke Uhl’s license. It noted in particular that the men had not designated a sober driver – “indicating that all of the men were drinking that night” – and that the Trooper had found two open beer cans in the front console, near where Uhl and the driver had been sitting. The court called Uhl’s testimony a “self-serving denial.”
Affirming the circuit court’s decision on further appeal, the Supreme Court said “[t]he OAH was clearly wrong to rely upon petitioner’s denials in spite of overwhelming circumstantial evidence that petitioner knowingly permitted [the driver] to drive his vehicle while under the influence of alcohol.” Uhl testified in the OAH hearing that he had gone to the track to “have fun” and knew that the venue was giving out free drinks that night, but he wasn’t aware if the driver had consumed any, according to the Court. The driver, meanwhile, admitted to having six or seven beers during the time. Under these circumstances, as well as the fact that the group had not designated a sober driver, the Court said it was reasonable to believe that Uhl knew the driver was under the influence of alcohol when he allowed the driver to operate the vehicle.
If you or a loved one has been charged with driving under the influence or a related crime, the West Virginia DUI 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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