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1/14/2015
West Virginia Front Seat Passenger Busted For Riding Under The Influence
West Virginia Supreme Court imposes punishes tipsy passenger in an SUV driven by a drunk friend.

West Virginia Supreme Court
Motorists in West Virginia will lose their right to drive if someone else drives their car while drunk. The state Supreme Court of Appeals on Friday in a 3 to 2 decision upheld the administrative penalty imposed on Jason F. Uhl, whose crime was riding in the passenger seat of his SUV while someone else was driving it under the influence of alcohol (DUI).

Uhl's troubles began on October 15, 2010. He joined two of his friends, Robert Lee Morris and Randy Spurlock, for what was supposed to be a fun night at a casino in Charleston. They drove together, but each went their separate ways until the end of the night. The casino was giving away free drinks, and Uhl realized that he had far too many to get behind the wheel.

Morris, who says he had six beers that evening, offered to drive. Uhl said there was no way he could have known how much Morris had to drink.

"He looked fine to me," Uhl said.

So all three hopped into Uhl's white Jeep Cherokee for the ride home. When the trio reached Interstate 64, they passed a speed trap operated by state Trooper R.A. Phillips who says he clocked the Cherokee at 71 MPH in a 50 MPH zone. They were ordered to pull over.

During the traffic stop, Trooper Phillips could smell alcohol. Morris flunked the standard battery of field sobriety tests, and a portable breathalyzer showed that he was well over the legal limit. There were eight cans of cold beer in the SUV, half of them opened. That was enough, the high court majority reasoned, to find Uhl guilty of a state law making it a crime for a vehicle owner to knowingly allow his car to be used by a drunk driver.

Initially, the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) suspended Uhl's license, but the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH) found the DMV did not have sufficient proof to establish Uhl's guilt. The high court reinstated the punishment.

"The OAH was clearly wrong to rely upon [Uhl's] denials in spite of overwhelming circumstantial evidence that petitioner knowingly permitted Mr. Morris to drive his vehicle while under the influence of alcohol," the unsigned high court majority decision explained. "This is not a situation where the permission to drive was remote in time or place. [Uhl], his car, and Mr. Morris were all in the same place for the entire evening. The evidence to support this finding is not negated by the self-serving testimony of petitioner. There is substantial circumstantial evidence in the record that [Uhl] was aware that Mr. Morris was consuming alcohol, and could be impaired."

A copy of the decision is available in a 20k PDF file at the source link below.

Source: PDF File Uhl v. Reed (West Virginia Supreme Court, 1/9/2015)



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