DUI law change shelved again

Motorists convicted of driving while under the influence of alcohol or other drugs should be dealt with harshly. But what of those accused of DUI but not convicted? Does “innocent until proven guilty” mean nothing in West Virginia?

As the law stands now, a person accused of DUI but not convicted can have his or her driver’s license suspended or revoked.

All that is needed is a law enforcement officer’s affidavit that someone was driving under the influence. Once that is provided, the Division of Motor Vehicles can and does make it illegal for that person to drive.

One argument in favor of the system is that often, such affidavits are accompanied by information on motorists’ blood alcohol content readings at the time they were arrested. Or, sometimes, the affidavits note drivers refused to take BAC tests.

A BAC test is an opportunity for a driver to prove he is not legally intoxicated. Refusal to have such a test performed is, not unreasonably, presumed evidence of guilt.

But what of someone who has taken a BAC test and is willing to go to trial for DUI? Should that person not have an opportunity to submit evidence he was not driving while impaired? That the test may have been flawed?

Of course. That is why we have trials for various crimes, including DUI.

As the system stands now, however, a law enforcement officer need not go through the trial process to get a motorists’ license suspended or revoked for DUI. He can allow the charge to be dropped, then fill out an affidavit, send it to the DMV, and wait for a suspension or revocation to be approved.

In a way, that amounts to presuming guilt without granting the defendant a chance to prove innocence.

State legislators have before them a bill, HB 3033, that would revoke the DMV’s ability to suspend or revoke a license without a trial proving someone guilty of DUI. But like a similar proposal last year, this one seems to have been parked in a committee and forgotten. It is dead for this year.

At some point, however, would it not be worth discussing whether innocent until proven guilty remains a concept important to West Virginians?

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