The state's highest court recently ruled on a lawsuit involving dram shop laws, an issue that has been hotly debated for the last few decades. In essence, dram shop laws refer to the liability of bars and restaurants for the actions of their patrons. A state with dram shop laws provides a third party with a legal right to sue a bar or restaurant, which has continued to serve a patron that is visibly drunk, if the patron causes some sort of injury to the third party. Dram shop is simply a traditional term for any establishment that sells alcohol. These laws typically apply to DUI accidents involving serious injury or death. Currently there are 43 states with some sort of dram shop statute, but both the Maryland Legislature and the Courts have not been inclined to follow the majority on this issue, with neighboring Virginia and Delaware sharing the same view. Numerous bills have been proposed over the years, but none has ended up on the governor's desk for a signature, and the state's highest court has never upheld a civil action against a bar or tavern for an act of a patron that occurred outside the establishment.
July 2013 Archives
A recent report released by the State Department of Health has brought disturbing news regarding drug use in Maryland. According to the department, drug overdoses increased a considerable 15 percent from 2011 to 2012. The likely culprit for the increase in drug fatalities is the popularity and resulting pervasiveness of heroin in all areas of the state, from downtown Baltimore to the suburbs. We have blogged and posted web pages about the comeback of heroin, and these statistics simply offer more proof that the drug is enjoying a second coming, albeit a deadly one. In 2011 the state reported 245 heroin related deaths, but last year this number ballooned to 378, while the total alcohol and drug related deaths rose from 663 to 761 from 2011 to 2012. Prince George's County and Baltimore City were responsible for the jump, as most other areas of the state reported a similar number of drug fatalities in the last two years.
The Maryland State Police officially launched its DUI prevention taskforce at a press conference in Jessup last week. The taskforce is nicknamed SPIDRE for State Police Impaired Driving Effort, and consists of seven specially trained troopers. These troopers will move throughout the state with the goal of impacting every legal jurisdiction. For now though, the taskforce will concentrate its efforts in areas that law enforcement officials have identified as DUI hotspots. These areas, which are documented to have the most alcohol related crashes and citations, include Prince George's County, Baltimore County, Howard County, Ocean City, and Hagerstown. The taskforce first deployed in PG County back in May and conducted over 1,300 traffic stops. The trooper team made 254 DUI arrests and 53 criminal arrests, and issued over 3,500 traffic citations and repair orders. Clearly the task force is not shy when it comes it issuing tickets, as they averaged almost 3 per traffic stop.
The taskforce will require funding of about $1.5 million, which the Motor Vehicle Administration's Maryland Highway Safety Office is shelling out in response to the large number of alcohol related crashes on state roads. Last year there were 158 people killing in these crashes and over 3,000 injured. Although theses numbers do not indicate an increase over the yearly average, this is still an extremely high number for a state with such a small total population. Nearly one third of all motor vehicle accidents are in some way caused or related to alcohol and drug consumption. Whether the SPIDRE task force ends up being successful depends on exactly how you define success. DUI suppression initiatives such as task forces, specially trained teams, and checkpoints will always result in more arrests. The state spends millions and the resources and manpower do end up putting people behind bars. But the ultimate goal of these programs should never be about arrests, but rather about prevention and mitigation. The real question should be whether SPIDRE actually makes our roads safer.
Law enforcement has reported that six Pennsylvania residents were recently arrested for various drug crimes in Ocean City. To call the out of state residents tourists may be a bit generous, because it seems from the police reports that the six young men and women may have been on the Eastern Shore for business purposes, as in selling the products they were arrested with. The arrest began as most drug arrests do, with a traffic stop for a seemingly harmless infraction. Upon approaching the car, the Ocean City Police officers allegedly observed the occupants acting nervous and suspicious. Thereupon, the cops ordered the occupants out of the vehicle and conducted a search. It is unclear whether the officers obtained permission to search, whether they lied about obtaining permission to search, or whether their observations gave them probable cause to detain and search. What is clear is that the driver and five passengers were all arrested for possession of marijuana and possession of LSD. Three of the occupants were charged with felony possession with intent to deliver, and one was charged with possession of a concealed dangerous weapon, a butterfly knife found on her person. The driver was also issued traffic citations including failure to wear a seatbelt, which undoubtedly was the initial cause of the traffic citation. Four of the occupants were released at the police station, and the other two were taken the Worcester County jail and released after posting a $2,500 bail.