Driver who lost license fights for right to use ATV

by Justin Anderson

Riding an all-terrain vehicle doesn't require a driver's license.

But state Supreme Court justices soon have to settle whether someone can be prosecuted for riding one with a revoked driver's license.

Roane County Circuit Judge David Nibert already has said the answer is no.

The judge dismissed a felony indictment against Robert L. Sarver for third-offense driving while his license was revoked for drunken driving and other violations.

Police caught Sarver riding his ATV, ran a check on his license and found it was no good.

Now the Supreme Court has agreed to hear the county prosecutor's appeal.

They agreed, 3-2, to hear the matter. Justices Larry Starcher and Joseph Albright voted against.

Justices have to decide in what instances an ATV is considered a "motor vehicle." They will hear arguments next month from Roane Prosecutor Mark Sergent.

"The Legislature in passing an all-terrain vehicle regulation did not intend to reward a previously revoked or suspended driver with the 'new' right to operate an all-terrain vehicle as a substitute for a motorcycle, car or truck," Sergent wrote in his petition asking justices to negate Nibert's ruling.

The case evokes memories of country singer George Jones, who famously took a riding lawn mower eight miles to a liquor store after his wife took his car keys to prevent him from consuming alcohol.

The ATV case before the Supreme Court originated in 2005 when Sarver was indicted by a grand jury after sheriff's deputies allegedly spotted him riding an ATV on Ambler Ridge Road and across U.S. 119 near Walton, court records show.

A check on Sarver's driver's license proved it was revoked for seven violations spanning from 1989 to 2002. The violations included three DUIs, two instances of Sarver's having no insurance, and an unpaid citation.

During court proceedings, Sarver's court-appointed public defender, Teresa Monk, filed a motion to dismiss the indictment and for Nibert to clarify the relevant law. The state objected.

In December, Nibert ruled that a person couldn't violate the license revocation law by driving an ATV.

Nibert ordered the indictment dismissed but stayed the decision until Sergent could perfect his petition for appeal.

Sergent argues in his petition that lawmakers define an ATV as a motor vehicle in state code. The law under which Sarver was indicted says a person can't operate a motor vehicle while his or her license is revoked.

A person driving an ATV drunkenly also can be prosecuted under the state drunken driving statutes, Sergent points out.