The Difference between Criminal and Administrative Hearings in West Virginia DUI Cases – Shears v. Reed

A person charged with DUI in West Virginia faces two separate proceedings – one criminal and the other administrative – that are likely to affect his or her ability to keep driving, not to mention any fines and jail time that the person might face. The proceedings operate separately, but they often become intertwined, as a recent case out of the state Supreme Court shows.

622079_swiss_police_car_1Ms. Shears was arrested and charged with aggravated DUI in March 2013, after she was pulled over and determined to have a blood alcohol content of more than 0.15 percent. That started two separate proceedings: a criminal matter related to the charge and an administrative matter through the state motor vehicles department to determine whether her driver’s license should be suspended or revoked. The DMV revoked Shears’ license for 45 days and required her to get an ignition interlock device, which requires a driver to take a breath test before being able to operate a vehicle, installed in her car for 270 days. The DMV also ordered Shears to participate in a safety and treatment program.

Meanwhile, Shears entered into a plea agreement in the criminal DUI case. Her license was suspended for 15 days as part of the deal, and she agreed to participate in the ignition interlock device program for at least 165 days. Pursuant to West Virginia Code § 17C-5-2b(b), Shears effectively waived her right to appeal the DMV’s decision in an administrative hearing. Nevertheless, Shears filed for a writ of prohibition, arguing that the DMV couldn’t revoke the license and require the ignition device for a longer period than that spelled out in the criminal case plea agreement. A circuit court declined to issue the writ.

Affirming the decision on appeal, the Supreme Court said the circuit court didn’t err in denying the writ. “[A]dministrative license revocation proceedings for driving a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol, controlled substances or drugs which are initiated pursuant to Chapter 17C of the West Virginia Code are proceedings separate and distinct from criminal proceedings arising from driving a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol, controlled substances or drugs,” the Court explained. “Although, the [DMV] Commissioner is to give consideration to the results of related criminal proceedings, the criminal proceedings are not dispositive of the administrative license revocation proceedings.”

Here, the Court said Shears clearly waived her right to challenge the DMV’s decision. That was true whether or not the DMV sought to enact more harsh penalties than those in the criminal case, according to the court. As a result, the Court said the DMV’s license revocation and ignition interlock order would remain in effect.

If you or a loved one has been charged with driving under the influence, the West Virginia criminal 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.

Related blog posts:

West Virginia DUI Cases Often Hinge on ‘Reasonable Suspicion’ – Reed v. Littleton

How Much Evidence is Enough to Prove DUI? West Virginia High Court Weighs In – Reed v. Hill

Drunk Driver who Posed as Brother Hit with Identity Theft Charges – State v. Soustek