West Virginia Supreme Court delivers ruling in DUI-related case

We often write about the consequences of a drunk driving conviction, as well as the threat of license suspension. In both cases, it is assumed that the person facing these consequences was the person driving the vehicle when it was pulled over. How could it be otherwise?

Well, West Virginia has a law that makes it a crime to allow someone else to drive your car if you know or suspect that that person is intoxicated. If convicted, your driver's license can be suspended. A ruling by the West Virginia Supreme Court earlier this year is a good example.

In January, the Court ruled on an incident which had taken place years earlier in October of 2010. That night, three men hopped in a car together and drove to a casino in Charleston. They apparently spent most of the night apart from one another and met up again before going home. This also happened to be a night when the casino was offering free drinks.

The car's owner recognized that he was too drunk to drive. One of the other men volunteered to drive, even though he had also been drinking. After leaving the casino and getting pulled over for speeding, it was clear that the driver was over the limit. But the trooper also noticed eight cans of cold beer in the vehicle, four of which had been opened.

At issue for the car's owner was whether he knew that his friend was drunk. His license was suspended by the Department of Motor Vehicles, but he successfully appealed to the Office of Administrative Hearings.

Upon review of the case, the West Virginia Supreme Court held that the DMV was right to suspend the car owner's license and the OAH should not have overturned that decision. The Court cited the significant amount of circumstantial evidence suggesting that the owner knew or should have known that his friend was drunk. Convincing circumstantial evidence included the open beer cans in the car.

If you ever find that you're unable to drive home because you're intoxicated, giving your keys to a friend who has also been drinking can be risky. If you can't stay where you are overnight, you may need to hire a taxi or some other driver who is unquestionably sober.

Source: TheNewspaper.com, "West Virginia Front Seat Passenger Busted For Riding Under The Influence," Jan. 14, 2015

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