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Sweeping New DUI Legislation Coming to West Virginia

In the Winter of 2020, the West Virginia legislature passed Senate Bill 130, to which the Governor subsequently signed into law, that will make sweeping changes to how a DUI charge is handled in the West Virginia court system. For decades, West Virginia has had two separate court systems on a DUI charge, the criminal court and the West Virginia DMV driver’s license administrative court system, currently presided over by the Office of Administrative Hearings. Effective July 1, 2020, this will no longer be the case. Full jurisdiction on a DUI case will transfer entirely to the criminal courts, eliminating the separate driver’s license administrative hearings. Further, the Office of Administrative Hearings will be eliminated on July 1, 2021, with any pending administrative hearings or hearing decisions pending being dismissed per the new law.

One of the biggest changes to this new law will be that a citizen accused of DUI in the State of West Virginia from July 1, 2020 forward will only lose his or her driver’s license, privilege to drive in WV or have any type of mandatory interlock period imposed IF he or she is actually convicted of DUI in the criminal court. If there is no conviction for DUI, there is no consequence to the citizen’s driver’s license.

Some of the highlights of the new legislation are as follows:

  • On every type of DUI charge (e.g. DUI 1st offense non-aggravated/aggravated, DUI 2nd, DUI w/ Injury, etc.), the citizen, if convicted of DUI, will have the option of serving a larger, hard “no driving” suspension period or a smaller, hard “no driving” suspension period with interlock installation in his/her vehicle for a specified period of time.
  • “Refusal Hearings” - If a citizen is alleged to have refused the breath machine post arrest, he/she will automatically lose their driver’s license for a period of forty-five (45) days, followed by one (1) year of interlock installation in their vehicle, or incur a one (1) year hard, “no driving” suspension of their license, unless the citizen requests a “refusal hearing” within thirty (30) days of their initial appearance before a Magistrate, which would be their arraignment post arrest. If after the hearing is held, the Magistrate feels that there has been sufficient proof established by the state, on a preponderance of the evidence standard, that the citizen did refuse the breath machine post arrest, then said license penalty is imposed by the DMV upon the citizen via registered mail, after the clerk of the court submits documentation to the DMV of said refusal. (*Thus it is imperative that a citizen arrested for DUI in the State of West Virginia post July 1, 2020, immediately contact experienced, well-trained DUI defense counsel to insure that their driving privileges are maintained pending a hearing before the assigned Magistrate.)
  • A plea of No Contest is now considered a “conviction” for driver’s license purposes as well as a Guilty plea is so considered. *Under the old law, and separate court systems, a plea of no contest to a DUI charge in the criminal court, while a conviction on their permanent record, would nonetheless still allow the citizen to have his/her driver’s license hearing where a guilty plea took the right away.)
  • Under the old law, a DUI charge could be upheld anywhere in the State of West Virginia, including the citizen’s own property (e.g. their backyard on riding lawnmower). The new law changes that to anywhere the public has access to drive. If the totality of the driving is on the citizen’s private property or where the public does not have access to drive, then a DUI charge will not be upheld.
  • The underlying criminal penalties will all remain the same with the new law. Only the driver’s license suspensions on the various types of DUIs will change if convicted of DUI in the criminal court.
  • The DUI Safety and Treatment Program, costs associated with it and the Interlock costs, and procedures for installation, will remain the same and the program will still be required for any citizen to have his/her driver’s license lawfully reinstated.
  • The West Virginia Deferral Program, applicable only to a first offense, non-aggravated DUI charge, now has to be completed within one (1) year of entry of the conditional guilty plea.
  • A blood test must have the citizen’s consent prior to being administered or by a search warrant issued by a magistrate.
  • The arresting officer must submit to the DMV within 48 hours of the citizen’s arrest a written statement containing the name and address of the citizen arrested, to which shall include the specific DUI offense charged and if applicable, a copy of the results of any secondary tests of blood, breath or urine. Upon receipt, the DMV shall “immediately” submit to the court of jurisdiction over the criminal offense full and complete record of any prior driver’s license suspensions or revocations; any conviction or term of conditional probation imposed in the state of West Virginia or any other state in the United State.

I firmly believe that in this economically challenged COVID-19 era, other states will now look to WV, and this model, as being not only much more efficient and streamlined, while still consequential to the convicted citizen, but also as providing cost savings to the state via the taxpayers. For it’s estimated that WV will save several million dollars by eliminating this separate administrative court system.

For more specific details on the historic and sweeping new DUI laws coming to West Virginia July 1, 2020, and that of any particular license suspension consequences and options on each particular type of DUI charge, along with potential criminal penalties of each, please visit www.WestVirginiaDUILawyers.com or call us at (304) 461-6000.