It seems like basic logic that the state police can only pull you over and arrest you for operating under the influence (OUI) if you’re on a public road. When you’re on your own property, they can’t touch you because, so long as you’re on your property, you can do pretty much whatever you want.
Not so, in some other states. In fact, the West Virginia Supreme Court just joined California as one of the states where you can be arrested for OUI without ever leaving the bounds of your yard. Maine is also a state where you can be arrested for drunk driving on your home property.
Late one night in February, 2012, Joshua Beckett was driving his ATV through his parents’ farmland in Monroe County, West Virginia. Beckett crashed, got hurt, and was driven to the hospital in an ambulance. The emergency medical technician noted that Beckett’s breath had the smell of alcohol on it, and Beckett admitted to having a few drinks before getting on his ATV.
A blood test at the hospital showed that his blood alcohol content (BAC) was 0.17%, over the amount required for an aggravated OUI charge in West Virginia. Beckett was arrested and charged for aggravated OUI, even though there was no evidence that he’d ever left his parents’ farmland or entered a public road.
Beckett’s case got to the Supreme Court of West Virginia, which noted that the state’s OUI law criminalizes anyone who is under the influence of alcohol and “who drives a vehicle in this state.” Back in 1980, the Supreme Court of West Virginia had decided that driving a vehicle “in this state” meant only on highways or public roads, preventing someone from being convicted for OUI when he’d been arrested for driving in a private parking lot.
However, in 1983, the West Virginia legislature changed the law. They added a definition of what it meant to drive “in this state”: “the phrase ‘in this state’ shall mean anywhere within the physical boundaries of this state, including, but not limited to, publicly maintained streets and highways…”
According to the Supreme Court of West Virginia, this new definition of “in this state” overturned the prior case, allowing Beckett to be charged and convicted for OUI, even though he never left his parents’ yard.
The news that people in West Virginia could not be subjected to criminal charges for OUI without ever leaving their property is a shocking one. However, it is clear from the court’s decision that they had their hands tied by a poorly-changed OUI statute that was amended at the height of the drunk driving scare. There are many of these laws out there on the books of numerous states, stripping people of their basic liberties for the sake of appeasing drunk driving advocacy groups and winning a few more votes for politicians.
If you have been pulled over and arrested for OUI in the state of Maine, you need a solid OUI-defense attorney on your side to make sure your charge does not turn into a costly conviction. Contact the law office of William T. Bly online or at (207) 571-8146.
If you are facing criminal charges in Maine, the attorneys at The Maine Criminal Defense Group are here to help. Call our office to speak with
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