The state Senate recently passed a bill that would ban the sale of grain alcohol throughout Maryland. The bill passed by a wide margin, 37 to 10 to be exact, and now awaits a vote in the House of Delegates before reaching the governor's desk. This same bill passed the Senate each of the last two legislative sessions, but failed to gain momentum, and ultimately stalled in the House. This year may be different though, as the chairman of a House subcommittee on alcoholic beverages has publicly backed the bill and will no doubt try to convince his colleagues of the bill's merit. The main goal of the grain alcohol ban is to lower the risk of binge drinking fatalities, injuries, and legal incidents such as DUI and even date rape on college campuses where grain alcohol is popular. The product is most commonly sold under the label of Everclear, which is 190 proof or 95 percent alcohol. It is commonly mixed with fruit juice or other mixers and placed in a large cooler for consumption. The argument from supporters of the ban is that college students have no idea how much alcohol there are consuming, and often drink more than they intend. Whether the grain alcohol itself is to blame is a question that is subject to much debate.
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The 2013 NFL season is officially underway, and week one of America's most popular sport is now in the books. Over one million people attended an NFL game in week one, and tens of millions more watched on television. The sport has never been more popular, and with the concussion lawsuit being resolved, the sport has never been in a better financial position. But the stain of a tumultuous offseason remains; as over thirty active players were arrested from the end of the Baltimore Ravens' Super Bowl win until the start of this season. Players from 19 different teams were either booked on criminal charges or taken into custody on outstanding bench or arrest warrants. The charges ranged in severity from simple possession of drugs all the way up to murder. Despite the league's growth in popularity and prosperity, player arrests are an issue that the commissioner's office will continue to battle in the coming years.
Back in May we posted an article about two politicians, a state lawmaker and a Baltimore County Councilman, who ran into legal troubles as a result of alcohol related incidents. Both were subsequently convicted of DUI in District Court. It seems that national politicians make news headlines each week for some sort of criminal or scandalous behavior, and state and local politicians are by no means without their share of mishaps. These two incidents are the proof, and as a result we are no longer surprised to read the stories in local news outlets and police blotters. But in the case of delegate Donald Dwyer, you can't help but be shocked by this most recent arrest. The delegate's second arrest in the past year is a political catastrophe no doubt, but the implications of this incident extent far beyond politics.
Just 8 months ago, in December of 2012, the delegate was arrested and charged with operating a vessel while under the influence of alcohol after he crashed his boat on an Anne Arundel County river. Numerous people, including children, were injured as a result of this boat accident, after which the delegate admitted to drinking at least 8 beers. He subsequently pled guilty to this offense and was sentenced to probation and 30 days in the county jail. But he was able to avoid serving that sentence after his defense attorney filed a de novo appeal to the Circuit Court. Under Maryland law, a criminal defendant has an absolute right to appeal a District Court criminal judgment, and upon filing the appeal the case basically starts over from scratch in the Circuit Court. In this particular case the delegate did not have to immediately serve his jail sentence because he was given an appeal bond, which is commonly granted to first time offenders. On August 6th Dwyer once again pled guilty to the alcohol charge and was given a sentencing date of October 25th of this year. Sentencing was set off to allow him to continue alcohol abuse treatment and education, the progress reports of which would be used as mitigation at the sentencing hearing. This is a common practice in DUI cases in order to obtain a probation before judgment or PBJ, and in more serious cases a suspended jail sentence.
Rather than take advantage of the delayed sentencing date to build a resume of mitigation, the delegate did just the opposite. Two weeks after pleading guilty Dwyer was again arrested for DUI and a host of other traffic infractions such as negligent driving, this time on the roadway and not the waterway. Nobody was injured and there was no accident, but that should matter little to the delegate's colleagues, the public, and the judge. Fellow state lawmakers have already been outspoken about Dwyer's behavior and public backlash is imminent. But for now the delegate has bigger problems to deal with. The assistant state's attorney has already filed a motion to revoke Dwyer's appeal bond, which will be heard next week. If the judge revokes the bond Dwyer will be remanded to the jail pending the outcome of his case later this fall. And the judge will undoubtedly take this recent arrest into account when making a sentencing decision. The blog will update with an article as new developments occur, but it is likely that the delegate will be in jail or at the very least in inpatient alcohol treatment for the next two months before he is sentenced.
Benjamin Herbst is a DUI lawyer serving all Maryland jurisdictions. Benjamin has handled hundreds of drug and alcohol related offenses and is available 24 hours to discuss your case. Call The Herbst Firm anytime at 410-207-2598 for a free consultation.
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.
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.
Maryland law enforcement has officially implemented a boater safety plan in response to the rising number of serious injuries and fatalities on the hundreds of state waterways. The plan, entitled Operation Dry Water, is actually a national initiative, which was created to raise awareness and enforcement of incidents of boating under the influence or BUI. According to the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators, nearly 17 percent of all boating fatalities are caused by alcohol use. Lawmakers and law enforcement agencies decided to adopt the national initiative after a recent three year spike in waterway deaths. In 2011 there were 24 Maryland waterway fatalities and last year there were 11, which is double the 10 year state average.
Over 30 years ago the National Transportation Safety Board advised all states to alter their drunk driving laws by lowering the legal blood alcohol limit from .10 to .08. But the NTSB and congress did not have the direct power to compel states to follow this recommendation through federal legislation. As a result, many states were slow to act on the recommendation and some simply ignored it for years. A few states, including our very own Maryland, likely would still have not ratified the .08 limit had it not been for the federal government employing an all too common backhanded tactic to force the hand of the state governments. States depend on the federal government for a variety of funding grants, but perhaps no single grant is larger than the money states are given to build and maintain highways. The federal money obviously comes at a cost, and congress has the authority to take it away as easily as it gives it. In the 90's congress began to threaten to discontinue federal highway funding, which amounts to tens of millions, to any state that decided to exercise their constitutional autonomy by not following the NTSB's recommendation. Federalism is great, but money talks, and by 2004 the DUI laws of all fifty states had incorporated a .08 BAC limit. Maryland held out until 2001.
It is no longer surprising to see an American politician wind up in the news with some sort of personal legal issue. It's is an unfortunate sign of the times, but our country's so called leaders seem to only make the news when they are in trouble. Most politicians outside of the heavy hitters remain relatively anonymous until the day their mug shot is plastered on our television or computer screens. Everyone knows Obama and O'Malley, but how many citizens actually know who their state and local representatives are? In the last few months, two Maryland politicians have become better known thanks to run ins with the law. Both of these incidents involve alcohol, as both were charged and subsequently convicted of DUI.
The first conviction occurred a few weeks ago, when Baltimore County councilman, Todd Huff pled guilty to drunk driving. The councilman was stopped by police on York Road in Towson while driving his county issued vehicle. It was later determined that he had a blood alcohol level of .20, which is more than twice the legal limit. Because of Huff's political position, the Baltimore County State's Attorney's office declined to prosecute the case, and Harford County prosecutors stepped in to finish the job. The prosecutor recommended a jail sentence, but the circuit court judge did not feel mandatory jail was warranted. Instead, the judge sentenced Huff to two years of supervised probation and a one-year suspended jail sentence. If the councilman were to violate his probation he could be sentenced to the suspended jail time after a VOP hearing. The sentence appears to be on par with other Baltimore drunk driving cases with similar facts. Had the councilman been arrested in the prosecutor's Harford County he undoubtedly would have been worse off.
Although not an official public holiday in America as it is in Ireland, each year on St. Patrick's Day millions of Americans flock to the bars and pubs to join in the festivities. It is one of our country's favorite holidays, where it's not just acceptable, but encouraged to dress up in green and drink beer of the same color. Everyone is Irish on March 17th. But St. Patrick's Day is also a busy day for law enforcement, and even busier when the holiday happens to fall on a weekend as it has for the past two years. This year, dozens of Maryland law enforcement agencies are ramping up their DUI patrols to combat the yearly spike in alcohol related car accidents on this festive day. Starting at 9 p.m. tonight, and lasting through Monday morning, the state police as well as local cops will be out in full force to zero in on anyone who attempts to get behind the wheel after one too many Guinness pints. The patrols will focus on areas that have a past history of larger volumes of injury accidents and other incidents involving alcohol. DUI patrols will not exclusively patrol these areas though, and are sure to be out in greater numbers on all heavily traveled roads.
Back in June the Blog posted an article about a man who was arrested for his 8th DUI, and now a sentence has finally been handed down in this unprecedented case. The defendant had three open Wicomico County drunk driving cases this year alone. Two of those cases were disposed of by way of guilty pleas back in October of this year. The man received a two-year jail sentence for the first case on the 19th of October, and he received three years for a separate case just one week later. Last week in Salisbury, a Circuit Court judge handed down the final sentence of an additional three years, bringing the total amount of jail time to eight years, one for each conviction. The most recent case was certainly the most egregious of the three, as the intoxicated man apparently slammed straight into a stopped car at a red light intersection. To make matters worse, the defendant was also driving without his required engine interlock device, which does not allow the car to be started without an alcohol free breath sample
The jail sentences were ordered to be served consecutively, meaning that the man will have to finish serving time on each individual case before he can receive credit for time served in the others. The judge could have imposed the three-year sentence to run concurrently, but then the defendant would not have to serve any additional time. After completing the eight years, which includes four with the Department of Corrections, the man will have one year of probation with an extra year hanging over his head in case of a violation.
Police departments around the country are planning to ramp up their DUI detection and suppression efforts for the big game this weekend. Cops will deploy more road patrol officers than normal, and set up numerous checkpoints around the country this coming Sunday. These patrols and checkpoints will focus on popular nightlife areas and suburban neighborhoods where millions will be hosting or attending parties. Baltimore will likely see a large police presence in the downtown area, as thousands of Ravens fans will be out watching and celebrating the hometown team. The best piece of advice for any party goer who plans on drinking is to walk, take public transportation, or cab it. But, as most Marylanders are aware the state's public transportation system and taxi cab network is hardly to most accessible, so driving is usually the only option. Get a designated driver, and try to find one that'll be able to resist the temptation to drink when the Ravens are playing well, playing poorly, or doing both from one play to the next.
Police departments tend to send out press releases about increased DUI patrols because their publicly stated goal is to prevent drunk driving. But for the road patrol officers out on the street who aren't able to watch the game, their goal is to make arrests. Many false or illegal DUI arrests occur on holidays or during large events when cops are on high alert. You can be sure that police will be quick to arrest after a traffic stop or at a checkpoint throughout the day and night on Sunday at the first hint of alcohol. Simply having a few drinks and then driving is not illegal. For police to make and arrest, a driver must either have a blood alcohol level of at least .08 or display to the stopping officer that they are intoxicated or under the influence to the extent that their faculties are impaired. It is not illegal to smell like beer and get behind the wheel, so it is important to know your rights if you happen to be pulled over.
The Thanksgiving holiday week is one of America's favorite times of the year. During the day we eat our turkey, play and watch football, and take advantage of all the Black Friday shopping sales. But the Thanksgiving week and weekend is also known as a popular nightlife time. In fact, the Wednesday before Thanksgiving is the single most popular bar night of the year, and the Friday and Saturday after are not far behind. And whenever there is a party, you can be sure that police are not far behind to come crash it. The Maryland State Police recently made an attempt to crash the holiday week party by ramping up patrols across the state's highways. Police were specifically targeting the roads in and out of popular nightlife spots and conducted almost 9,000 traffic stops over the holiday weekend. Out of the 9,000 traffic stops, nearly 100 resulted in an arrest for DUI. Close to 60 people were arrested or cited with drug offenses by state troopers, and over 100 were arrested for other crimes. Police also reported that 3 guns were confiscated during the traffic stops.
The Maryland State Police ramped up their holiday patrols in all 22 barracks across the state, with orders to look for aggressive drivers, speeders, drivers not wearing their seatbelts, and impaired drivers. The state police did not conduct a DUI checkpoint over the weekend, but instead relied on a more aggressive patrol initiative. Baltimorecriminaldefenselawyerblog.com has previously posted articles about the futility of DUI checkpoints in the state, and the recent holiday patrol proves this point. Over 1 percent of the drivers that were stopped by police patrols over the weekend were suspected of drunk driving. Past Maryland checkpoint have resulted in about one half of one percent of drivers being suspected of drunk driving. This is not to say that the ramped up road patrols are without flaws, but rather to say they are at least more effective than checkpoints.
A Delaware resident was recently arrested on Maryland's Eastern Shore after he allegedly led police on a multi county high speed chase. State Police troopers along with the Kent County Sheriffs Department collaborated in apprehending the suspect, who was charged with multiple traffic infractions and crimes. Some of the more serious crimes included fleeing and eluding, DUI, and negligent driving. The chase originated near Chestertown, which is the county seat, and largest city in Kent County. At about 2 in the afternoon, law enforcement received a call about a suspected drunk driver. Sheriffs responded to the area of the call, and one officer observed a Dodge Charger that matched the description in the call speeding along Route 213. The Officer initiated a traffic stop and made contact with the driver of the Charger. The contact with the Officer did not last long, as the driver took off at a high rate of speed.
The stopping officer immediately called for backup and gave chase after the suspect. In a desperate attempt to avoid law enforcement, the suspect turned onto U.S. 301 and allegedly accelerated to speeds near 150 miles per hour. Despite the exceptionally high rate of speed, law enforcement officers did not abandon their pursuit and a cross county chase continued into Queen Anne's County. The suspect apparently lost the cops at one point, but later came to a stop near route 300 where he was arrested. At the time of the initial report, it does not appear that anyone was injured in the chase or that there was any sort of car accident. The suspect allegedly decided on his own volition to give up trying to flee from police.
The Anne Arundel County Police Department has released its final statistics about a recent DUI checkpoint. The results are consistent with another Maryland DUI checkpoint on the Eastern Shore that was the subject of a previous blog entry, and provide further evidence supporting the conclusion that DUI checkpoints are not a cost effective method of cracking down on drunk driving. In this particular checkpoint traffic was basically slowed to a halt in both directions of Ritchie Highway in Brooklyn Park, Maryland. Anne Arundel County police officers as well as the Maryland State Police worked together in running the checkpoint. The county police did not release just how many total officers were involved, but a conservative estimate would put around twenty total officers at the scene for roughly five hours. Again, this is a conservative estimate for both the amount of officers involved as well as the time frame of the checkpoint. There were likely far more police resources expended in setting up the checkpoint, running it, and then closing up the scene. The statistics do not suggest that this particular checkpoint was worth the costs.
According to the Ann Arundel police, a total of 695 drivers were stopped in the Ritchie Highway DUI checkpoint. That is 695 drivers, and not total citizens that were forced by the government to submit to an involuntary stop. There were most likely over one thousands citizens that had an unwanted run in with the police that night. Out of the 695 drivers, Ann Arundel and Maryland State Police made a total of 5 DUI arrests. Far less than one percent of the drivers that were investigated for DUI actually exhibited enough signs of intoxication to warrant an arrest. Twenty plus police officers and 4 to 6 hours of police work and the only thing to show for it is 5 DUI arrests. For those counting, that is about 1 DUI arrest for every 5 officers, and about one per hour. The numbers just do not add up.
Compulsory or mandatory blood tests during the course of a DUI investigation have been a hotly debated legal topic over the last decade. The debate over whether cops should legally be able to force a DUI suspect to submit to a blood draw to measure blood alcohol level has been debated in Maryland, Delaware, and in almost every state in the county. Twenty years ago it would truly have been far fetched to predict that a state could one day grant its law enforcement officers the power to force a DUI suspect to submit to a blood test without a warrant, but now this idea is becoming a reality. Many Maryland beachgoers who happen to cross over into Delaware can find out the hard way about this harsh law.
In Delaware, a police officer may require a DUI suspect to submit to a blood alcohol test if he or she refuses to take a breath alcohol test. Typically, an EMT will be called to the scene of the DUI and instructed to take the suspects blood, or the blood draw can occur in the police station. Delaware law does not require that the DUI involve an accident or a serious injury to anyone involved in the DUI. Delaware law also does not require that the arresting officer or any officer obtain a warrant before requiring a blood alcohol test. There have been countless incidents of Maryland residents being arrested for DUI in Delaware, especially in the summer months when Marylanders flock to beach towns such as Dewey and Rehoboth. Many times these Maryland residents try to invoke their right to refuse a breath or blood alcohol test, only to be informed (and many times rudely informed) that this is only a right they can exercise in Maryland.