CHARLESTON – West Virginians can't preserve their driving privileges by pleading no contest to drunken driving instead of pleading guilty, the state Supreme Court of Appeals has decided.
Four of five Justices on Oct. 30 affirmed Greenbrier Circuit Judge Jim Rowe, who revoked the license of Alan Baker for six months.
Police arrested Baker in 2005 and measured his blood alcohol at 0.211 percent.
In magistrate court, Baker pleaded "nolo contendre," or no contest. The court fined him $250 and prescribed 24 hours of community service. The court forwarded an abstract of judgment to the Division of Motor Vehicles.
The division, following state law that requires revocation or suspension upon conviction of drunken driving, ordered revocation.
Baker petitioned in circuit court to review the order, arguing that a plea of no contest did not satisfy the law's requirement of conviction.
Rowe affirmed the revocation but stayed the order so Baker could appeal.
Lavoyd Morgan of Lewisburg represented Baker. Assistant attorney general Janet James represented the Division of Motor Vehicles.
Justice Brent Benjamin wrote for the majority that a plea of no contest triggers mandatory revocation or suspension "because that person has been found guilty by a court ... and is thus deemed convicted."
"By entering his nolo contendere plea, appellant was convicted of criminal DUI charges," Benjamin wrote.
Chief Justice Robin Davis and Justices Joseph Albright and Spike Maynard agreed. Maynard reserved the right to file a concurring opinion.
Justice Larry Starcher dissented and reserved the right to file a dissenting opinion.