CHARLESTON – Police don't have to see a person driving in order to prove the person drove under the influence of alcohol, the Supreme Court of Appeals ruled on May 6.
The Justices revoked licenses that two circuit judges had reinstated for lack of proof.
In one case, a Marshall County deputy found James Groves III walking along a road near a guard rail that his car jumped.
In the other, a Marion County corporal found Eric Cain sleeping near his car.
A breath test on Cain found almost twice the legal limit of alcohol in the blood, and a test on Groves found almost three times the limit.
At hearings before the Division of Motor Vehicles, neither man denied driving.
Still, Circuit Judge Mark Karl ruled that Groves could keep his license and Circuit Judge David Janes ruled that Cain could keep his.
In the Groves case, the Justices reversed Karl in an unsigned opinion.
They wrote that state law on driving under the influence does not require that an officer observe a person operating a vehicle as long as all surrounding circumstances indicate the person drove it to its location.
Groves was compliant with the investigation and provided the officer with his license and registration, they wrote.
"Moreover, no one else was discovered at the scene of the accident and there was no evidence offered that someone else was driving the vehicle on the night of the accident," they wrote.
"It is reasonable to conclude under these circumstances that appellee was the driver of the vehicle involved in the accident," they wrote.
In the other case, Justice Thomas McHugh wrote that Janes recognized a possibility that Cain didn't start drinking until he parked his vehicle and turned off the engine.
The record was devoid of any factual basis for the officer to believe that, he wrote.
The officer had passed the spot 30 minutes earlier and had seen no vehicle, he wrote.
Attorney General Darrell McGraw and assistant attorney general Janet James represented motor vehicles commissioner Joe Miller.
Thomas Madden of Glen Dale represented Groves, and Charles Anderson of Fairmont represented Cain.