CLARKSBURG, W.Va. (WBOY) — Two things define summer for many West Virginians—beer and mowing the lawn, but can those two things legally mix?
Under the West Virginia Code §17C-5-2, a person who “drives a vehicle on any public highway or private road in this state […] while he or she is in an impaired state” will be charged with DUI and can be fined up to $1,000 for a first offense. But an amendment made in 2020 does prevent people from being charged with DUI under certain circumstances.
The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals ruled on a case in 2016 that someone can be charged with DUI even if only driving on private property, according to Martinsburg-based DUI defense law firm, the Wagner Law Firm. The ruling, which was against a man who had driven an ATV on private property, was made on the grounds that the phrase “in this state” means anywhere within the state of West Virginia, including private land.
However, after the ruling, §17C-5-2a which defines “in the state” as it relates to DUIs was passed in the 2020 regular legislative session. The amendment specifies that “in this state” can include any place in West Virginia that is “open to the use of the public for purposes of vehicular travel.” It also specifies that under all but three paragraphs of the code, “in this state” does not include private property.
The term does not mean or include driving or operating a vehicle solely and exclusively on one’s own property in an area not open to the use of the public for purposes of vehicular travel.WV Code §17C-5-2a
The amended definition does not apply to paragraphs (b), (c) and (d) of the code which relate to cases where the impaired driver causes bodily injury to another person.
In cases where the driver “causes a bodily injury to any person other than himself or herself,” they are guilty of a misdemeanor. And in cases where the impaired driver “causes serious bodily injury” or “causes the death of any person,” the charge is upgraded to a felony, regardless of where the person was driving.
So in West Virginia, unless someone other than the driver gets hurt, an impaired person who operates a lawn mower, or any other vehicle, on private land that is not open to the public for vehicular travel would not be charged with a DUI under the current WV Code.