Local News

Loophole Allowed DMV To Issue License To Man On Probation

Posted August 8, 2006 6:38 a.m. EDT

— When Chris Petersen pleaded guilty to taking part in a drag race that killed four teens on Interstate 540 in May 2001, the court's order was very clear.

He was ordered to perform 480 hours of community service and ordered not to drive for three years. But just one year later, he was driving with a valid license.

In court Monday, Petersen's attorney, Nick Saparilis, told Judge Donald Stephens that his client was confused because he was able to get a license from DMV even though he was not supposed to drive.

Stephens, however, said it was Petersen's responsibility, and his alone, to follow the court order, and sentenced Petersen to three months in the Wake County Jail for violating his probation.

"He did get a license from the DMV," said Saparilis after court on Monday. "I can't tell you, nor did I know, why it is that happened."

Wake County Clerk of Court Jan Pueschel showed WRAL exactly what was sent electronically to the North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles. It clearly showed that Petersen was to have his license suspended for 36 months.

"I don't see how they could misunderstand this transmittal," Pueschel said. "There's not a typo or anything I could find."

Under current law, the DMV did not misunderstand it. General Statute 2016 states that the DMV is only required to revoke a license in a death-by-vehicle case for one year. In the Petersen case, the DMV said it had no grounds to deny him driving privileges after that.

"The 36 months of no driving is a condition of probation, not part of the DMV process," said DMV spokesperson Marge Howell.

Clearly Petersen violated that condition, but the question remains: Why is the DMV not bound by the court order? General statute 2017 allows the DMV to follow the judge's order and extend the revocation past the one-year period, but it does not mandate that the DMV do so.

Howell, however, could not say why that was not done in this case.