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Administrative – Driver’s License – Revocation – Criminal Practice – DWI

Neilon v. Commissioner of Motor Vehicles (Lawyers Weekly No. 11-16-0651, 14 pp.) (Sam Ervin IV, J.) Appealed from New Hanover County Superior Court. (Phyllis M. Gorham, J.) N.C. App. Unpub. Click here for the full-text opinion.

Holding: Even though no one saw petitioner in the driver’s seat, the investigating officer had reasonable grounds to arrest petitioner for driving while impaired based on the following evidence: A vehicle titled in petitioner’s name had run “off the road and struck two small trees.” At the time that Officer Hall approached, he observed petitioner sitting near the front left bumper of the wrecked vehicle. No one else was in the vicinity of the vehicle at that time. As Officer Hall approached the wrecked vehicle, petitioner “started running away.” After obeying Officer Hall’s order to stop, petitioner “had the strong smell of alcohol, red glassy eyes, [and] slurred speech” and “was unsteady on his feet.” Petitioner refused to answer Officer Hall’s questions and “refused field sobriety test[s].”

We reverse the trial court’s rescission of respondent’s revocation of petitioner’s driver’s license. Remanded.

As respondent’s hearing officer determined, Officer Hall was entitled to conclude, based on the information in his possession, that petitioner was clearly in an impaired condition. In addition, the fact that petitioner was the only person present at the time that Officer Hall approached, the fact that the vehicle in question was registered to petitioner, and the fact that petitioner fled at Officer Hall’s approach would permit a prudent person to infer that petitioner had been operating the wrecked vehicle.

Since the hearing officer’s findings of fact establish that Officer Hall had reasonable grounds to believe that petitioner had driven a vehicle while subject to an impairing substance, respondent correctly determined that petitioner’s license was subject to revocation, and the trial court erred by reaching a contrary conclusion.


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