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Private Property: Not a Shield From Driving Under the Influence

The next time you decide to break out the all-terrain vehicle (ATV) and go for a drive in the backyard, you should be sure to not be under the influence of alcohol. In Reed v. Beckett, the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia was asked to decide whether a person may lose their driver’s license because while under the influence of alcohol, he or she operated a vehicle solely upon private land.

The case was appealed from the Circuit Court of Monroe County and the facts are as follows. On February 4, 2012, Defendant was driving an ATV on family owned property not open to the public. Unfortunately, Defendant wrecked the ATV and was injured. Emergency services were called and Defendant was loaded into an ambulance where an EMT noted the smell of alcohol on the Defendant. At the hospital his blood alcohol level was 0.17%, and a West Virginia Sheriff’s Deputy charged Defendant with an aggravated driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI). The Commissioner of the West Virginia Division of Motor Vehicles was notified of the charge and Defendant’s driving privileges were revoked for 45 days. Defendant appealed this revocation to the Circuit Court of Monroe County arguing that his license could not be revoked because he as driving the ATV on privately owned land. The Circuit Court reversed the driver’s license revocation and concluded that the Commissioner had no jurisdiction to revoke the license since Defendant’s actions “did not occur on land open to public use.”

The Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia reversed the Circuit Court’s ruling and held that the revocation of Defendant’s driver’s license was well founded. The Court came to this conclusion by examining the statute under which Defendant was charged: W.Va. Code § 17C-5-2(e). This state criminalizes being a person “who drives a vehicle in this state” while being under the influence. Therefore, to decide whether a person may lose their driver’s license because while under the influence of alcohol, he or she operated a vehicle solely upon private land, the definition of “in this state” must be construed. West Virginia Code § 17C-5-2a(a) defines the phrase as “anywhere within the physical boundaries of this State (WV).” Using this definition the Court concluded that the West Virginia Legislature’s definition of the phrase “in this State” extends the reach of DUI laws to any individual driving a vehicle within the physical boundaries of West Virginia, even if the vehicle is driven only upon private property.

What this means for everyday West Virginians is simple. Whether checking animal traps, preparing for the next deer hunting season, or simply taking an evening ride; when you drive any vehicle on property that you own, you still may not do so under the influence of alcohol. The Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia has made it very clear that intoxicated persons are not allowed to drive a vehicle in West Virginia regardless to if they are on public or private property. Having a few beers before driving an ATV could lead to a lost driver’s license, so before you get behind the wheel while inebriated, remember the ruling in Reed v. Beckett and take your ATV out tomorrow morning.

If you have been charged with a crime in West Virginia, give us a call at 304-245-9097 and ask for Steven or Chris. The first consultation is free, and they can decide whether they can take up your criminal defense matter.

Best,

Joshua T. Thompson

&

Steven S. Wolfe, Esq.