In a recent case, West Virginia’s Supreme Court gave some important insight into what kind of and how much evidence is necessary to prove that a person is unlawfully driving under the influence of alcohol.
Mr. Hill was arrested and charged with DUI following an incident in which he allegedly nearly crashed into a police cruiser. The deputy involved later testified that he was nearly hit head on by Hill’s vehicle – which the deputy said appeared to be speeding – and had to swerve to avoid the crash. He then turned his car around and stopped Hill’s vehicle. The deputy said he noticed a smell of alcohol coming from the car and from Hill’s breath and that Hill’s eyes were bloodshot and glassy. The deputy also said Hill was a bit unsteady while standing, talked in a continuous and excited manner, and had a slight slur in his speech.
Although Hill admitted that he had been drinking, he said he drove his friend’s car because he was in better shape than the friend to operate the vehicle. He denied being drunk and also said that he wasn’t speeding at the time of the near collision. Hill did, however, admit to driving “close” to the center of the road and said he’d had to swerve to avoid striking the deputy’s car. He failed one of three field sobriety tests, according to the deputy, and registered a blood alcohol concentration of .111% (above the .08% legal limit) in a preliminary breath test. Hill’s BAC was .108% when he took a second test nearly two hours later.
The state DMV in January 2011 notified Hill that it was revoking his license because of the DUI. The Office of Administrative Hearings later reversed the revocation, however. The OAH found that the deputy had sufficient legal grounds to stop Hill’s car, but not to require Hill to take the breath test. Specifically, the OAH noted that Hill passed two of the three field tests. It also concluded that the deputy wasn’t certified to perform the third test – the horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN) test – and therefore the results of that test had to be thrown out. The deputy also gave contradictory information about Hill’s performance on that test, according to the OAH.
Finally, the OAH said the deputy shouldn’t have been talking to Hill while performing the first breath test, a move that could have caused the result to be inaccurate. A circuit court later affirmed the OAH’s decision.
Reversing the OAH’s decision on further appeal, the Supreme Court found that there was enough evidence to sustain the arrest and charge even without the HGN and first breath test. “[N]either the relevant statutes nor our case law require that a preliminary breath test or any particular field sobriety test be administered, and failed, in order to establish that a motorist was driving under the influence,” the Court said. “The results of such tests, if the tests were properly administered, are to be considered in conjunction with all of the other evidence.”
In this case, the Court said there was sufficient evidence that Hill had committed DUI. That included his erratic driving behavior, his physical state and the smell of alcohol on his breath, as well as his admission that he had been drinking. After the arrest, the second breath test showed that Hill’s BAC was above the legal limit, the Court observed.
If you or a loved one has been charged with driving under the influence, 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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