Articles Posted in DWI and DUI

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police-224426__180Drunk driving charges have been filed against a Baltimore Police sergeant after he allegedly crashed an unmarked department vehicle into multiple parked cars.  The incident occurred last weekend in the northeast part of the city not far from the site of the old Memorial Stadium.  The sergeant is a 15-year veteran of the force, who is assigned to a new plainclothes unit sporting the nondescript title Anti-Crime Section.  This undercover unit has been around since April, and is the first of its type since plainclothes units were disbanded following federal indictments of numerous members of the Gun Trace Taskforce.  The charged officer is one of two sergeants on the plainclothes unit, which also includes 12 officers.  Pursuant to department policy the sergeant has been suspended with pay while an internal investigation takes place.

The sergeant was not arrested and booked into jail, but rather was issued must appear citations.  He will receive a summons to appear for trial, likely at the North Avenue District Court in Baltimore City sometime in the next few weeks.  Most people who are arrested for DUI or DWI in Maryland are not actually booked into a jail, but rather are released to a friend or family member at the police station. This process typically takes a few hours, as the officer has to complete all the paperwork and inform the defendant of his or her rights with respect to the breathalyzer test.  There are certain scenarios where a driver arrested for drunk driving could be booked into jail, but a polite and cooperative attitude will usually be enough to avoid this unfortunate outcome.

Like most first time offenders, the police officer will probably have an opportunity to receive probation before judgment or PBJ from the judge in district court.  This of course depends on whether the officer’s attorney feels the state has enough evidence to prove the charges, and it is not clear whether the sergeant submitted to a breath test.  The officer may elect to fight his case at trial, though this route should take the case downtown to the circuit court.  It is extremely difficult to win a DUI trial in district court because you are relying on the judge alone to find the state has not met its burden of proof.  Police officers typically have the most experience testifying in traffic cases, and in a district court trial they only need to convince one person (the judge) that the citations should stand.  Contrast this with a jury trial where 12 citizens are scrutinizing each and every word coming from the state’s witnesses.  Most jurors understand that even two sips of alcohol can be detected on a person’s breath, and that the roadside exercises are a ridiculous endeavor. Standing on one leg and walking heel to toe in a straight line are hardly an adequate means to test a person’s normal faculties.  If you are charged with DUI or DWI (typically a person will be issued citations for both and an additional one for DUI per se if the breath results were above .08) do not hesitate to request a jury trial and transfer your case to circuit court. Making this request does not automatically mean your case will go to a jury trial, rather it simply means that this option will be available.

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drink-driving-808790_960_720-300x200Just as the summer beach season began, Worcester County was honored for producing the highest conviction rate among all Maryland counties for DUI and DWI. The announcement came at a recent gathering for state prosecutors at an Ocean City hotel, which also hosts the annual bar convention.  The average conviction rate for drunk driving statewide is about 78 percent, and Worcester County bested this number by a cool 13 percentage points to come in at 91 percent, meaning nine out of ten DUI arrests resulted in a conviction last year in the state’s eastern most county.  Worcester is no stranger to a high drunk driving conviction rate, as the county has been tops in the state for 5 of the last 6 years.  The State’s Attorney’s Office and the numerous police departments that patrol the county highways deserve much of the credit for the courtroom success, but there are other factors contributing to the unusually high conviction rate.

Worcester County is home to Maryland’s only beachfront resort, and thousands flock to Ocean City each summer to enjoy the sun, sand and plentiful nightlife.  While Ocean City will never be confused with South Beach, it is one of the most popular summer destinations in the region and attracts out of state tourists from Pennsylvania, Washington D.C., Northern Virginia, West Virginia and Delaware. Many of these tourists come for mellow family vacations involving mini golf and boardwalk fries, but even more come to party.  There is a lot of drinking each night in Ocean City, and unfortunately a lot of driving as well.  Police are on high alert for drunk driving all summer long, and anyone pulled over driving at night in the area will immediately become a suspect.  This is especially true for teenagers and young adults, and also those with out of state license plates.  More drunk driving investigations does not always mean more convictions, but when it comes to younger defendants and out of state residents to odds increase for a conviction.

Out of state defendants are less likely to be versed in Maryland laws and more likely to try to resolve their case on the first trial date.  Ocean City and Snow Hill are not exactly centrally located, thus out of state defendants are less inclined to request a jury trial and appear at numerous court hearings. Drunk driving trials are almost a foregone conclusion unless the cases is tried in front of a jury, as a judge will typically believe an officer who makes a determination that a driver is impaired.  On the other hand, jurors are definitely more skeptical and require evidence in order to come back with a guilty verdict.  It’s one thing to fight your case till the very end when the courthouse is around the corner, but it’s a different animal when court is a five-hour drive away.

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beer-931826__480-300x199Depending on where you live schools are either out or ending Friday, and the annual senior week pilgrimage to Ocean City is already underway. Pretty soon traffic will be piling up on Bay Bridge each weekend, and Route 50 will be jam packed with beachgoers. If you venture east not only will you be sharing the road with thousands of station wagons and SUVs filled to the brim with coolers and chairs, but also with state and local law enforcement.  Maryland State Police have officially launched their “Lose the Booze” initiative for 2018, and are teaming up with local law enforcement on the Eastern Shore to combat underage drinking and DUI.  The Easton Police Department, Talbot County Sheriff and Caroline County Sheriff have already joined the initiative, and other law enforcement agencies in the area will certainly be on high alert for all drug and alcohol related offenses.

Police on the Eastern Shore are notorious for making arrests on the few thoroughfares that head to Ocean City and the Delaware beaches.  Route 50 is really the only direct way to Ocean City for beachgoers from Maryland, Washington D.C. and Virginia.  Police patrolling 50, 301 and 404 will always profile a car full of young adults/ teenagers and look for any excuse to make a traffic stop to investigate further.  Out of state license plates do not help the cause either.  Pennsylvania vacationers avoid most of the Maryland highways on their way to the beach but their PA license plate still sticks out on Coastal Highway and other roads inland.  Most of the time it’s speeding, but an officer who locks on to a car is legally permitted to make a stop for any type of traffic infraction, no matter how minor.  Once the traffic stop begins the officer can then use his or her observations to develop probable cause for a search.

Upon making a traffic stop Eastern Shore police officers are immediately looking for signs of impairment.  All police are trained to look for clues of DUI or DWI but officers in Ocean City and the surrounding areas almost expect it.  This is especially true on weekends in the afternoon, evening, or even first thing in the morning for those drivers who have not quite slept it off.  Cops that encounter teenagers or anyone that looks under the age of 21 will be on high alert for alcohol in the vehicle. Minors in possession of alcohol can be charged with a civil citation and face up to a $500 fine, which all minors in a car could be subject to if the alcohol is found in the passenger compartment.

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drink-driving-808790_960_720-300x200Despite rarely appearing in statistical crime reports, drunk driving is one of the most common jailable offenses committed in Maryland each year. The number of yearly statewide drunk driving arrests is in the thousands, and hundreds of these are the direct result of an accident causing death or serious injury. The penalties for driving under the influence or while impaired are about average in relation to other states in the country, but in the last few years there has been legislation to make these penalties progressively harsher. Lawmakers recently added mandatory engine interlock in certain cases and increased the length of license suspensions for testing over the legal limit or for refusing the test. Despite the recent progress Annapolis lawmakers are far from finished, and will continue to modify drunk driving laws. This year a bill is on the table in both houses that may not come into play as often as mandatory interlock and long license suspensions, but it’s one that will send a clear message to repeat offenders.

While a first time offender can be sentenced to as much as a year in jail for committing a DUI it is still classified as a traffic offense, and even multiple convictions will not technically leave a person with a criminal record. As the laws are currently written in the transportation code the stiffest penalty for a drunk driving case is three years in jail, and this only applies on the third or subsequent conviction. There are other factors that may escalate the sentence such as drunk driving with a minor in the car, though even with enhancements a DUI or DWI is still considered a misdemeanor traffic offense regardless of how many times the defendant has been convicted. Maryland law does not allow for the expungement of a DUI or DWI even if the defendant has received a probation before judgment, so there will always be a record of a case where defendant pleads guilty or no contest. This is a harsh consequence, but based on the new bill it appears that Annapolis lawmakers believe simply being barred from expungement and increasing possible penalties is not enough of a deterrent to drive drunk.

If new bill ends up becoming law later this year it will take drunk driving laws to a new level, and one that many states currently have in place. The call from lawmakers is to classify a standard DUI or DWI charge as a felony with a 10-year maximum jail sentence and a possible $10,000 fine provided the defendant has certain prior convictions. Specifically the bill would establish that anyone with a prior conviction for vehicular homicide or manslaughter by vehicle or vessel is subject to being charged with a felony if they are arrested for drunk driving. This includes manslaughter from criminal negligence or gross negligence. It also could give the state the power to charge felony DUI if the defendant has three or more prior convictions. No other aggravating factors need to be present in order for these enhanced penalties to come into play, and the only requirement on the state to charge felony DUI would be that they notify the defense 5 days before trial in the district court and 15 days prior to trial in the circuit court.

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465392_breathalyzer-300x243The two main concerns for anyone that is arrested for DUI are typically going to jail and losing the ability to drive legally. We touched on the likelihood for jail sentences in a previous post, so in this post we will stick to a discussion about the potential for dealing with a suspended license. It is important to understand that there are two different events that can result in a suspended license, and one generally has nothing to do with the other. The first event is the initial traffic stop where the officer will ask you to take a breathalyzer test to determine blood alcohol content or BAC. If you refuse to submit to the test then your license will automatically be suspended for 270 days for a first refusal and 2 years for a second or subsequent refusal. The suspension is administrative, and is initiated after the arresting officer submits an order of suspension to the driver, and forwards copies to the MVA. The suspensions were increased to these numbers in October of 2016 after the passage of the Drunk Driving Reduction Act.

The suspension for a refusal will actually go into effect after 45 days from the order of suspension, and you will be able to legally drive during this time. The paper order of suspension will serve as the temporary driver’s license. During these first 45 days defendants have three choices to make. First, they can elect to install the engine interlock device (also known as blow and go) in their car and then obtain a restricted license from the MVA. The restricted license will state that the driver is only allowed to drive a vehicle with the device, and for a refusal must be maintained for a minimum of one year. You can only obtain this type of restricted license after you present the MVA with a certificate of installation from the company that installed the interlock device in your car.

If you refuse the breathalyzer you also have the option of requesting a hearing in front of an administrative law judge. The hearing will take place at an MVA branch office or the OAH in Hunt Valley, Baltimore County. When dealing with a refusal case, a hearing officer may only uphold the suspension or reverse the suspension. They will not issue a restricted, work only license. The only realistic ways to win an administrative hearing are to prove that you didn’t refuse, or that the cop had no legal basis to request the test in the first place, and most hearings end up with the driver walking out disappointed, so think twice before requesting one. The third option for a driver that refuses the test is to accept the 9-month suspension. If the police did not confiscate your license you must turn it into the MVA or sign a form stating you lost it in order to get credit for serving the suspension.

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dui2-300x199Drunk driving is one of the most common jailable offenses in Maryland, and one that affects those of all ages and backgrounds. Close to 20,000 people are arrested here each year for DUI or DWI, and most of these defendants are first time offenders with no criminal or serious traffic convictions. An arrest for drunk driving can be an extremely unpleasant experience for anyone, especially those who have never been detained by the police. Reality usually sets in after the adrenaline from the police encounter wears off, and the initial emotions can range from anger to regret. For many this is often followed by fear for the consequences that may follow.

While the majority of drivers arrested for suspicion of DUI will have their license confiscated and then suspended after 45 days, Maryland allows drivers to install the interlock device to avoid suspension. The interlock device may be annoying, but it allows defendants to drive without any restrictions, which is much better than choosing between driving on a suspended license and having to deal with the state’s subpar public transportation to get to school or work. After realizing that you can keep driving after the arrest, the focus then shifts to two main concerns. In no specific order the two most common questions from a DUI defendant are: will I go to jail and will I end up with a permanent conviction on my record?

The question about potential jail time depends on a variety of factors, but the two most important are whether there was an injury accident and whether it is a first offense. In almost every Maryland jurisdiction a first time drunk driving offender who pleads guilty or even is found guilty at trial will not be sentenced to jail time if there are no aggravating factors. The most obvious aggravating factor is an injury accident, but there are many others including an extraordinarily high blood alcohol content (typically anything that approaches .20 would fall in this category), lack of cooperation with the arresting officer or driving in a reckless manner. Other aggravating factors that may influence a judge with respect to a jail sentence would be committing the offense with a minor child in the car or near a school or day care center.

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drink-driving-808790_960_720-300x200Three State Police Troopers were injured last week in two separate drunk driving related accidents. Both accidents occurred in Prince George’s County and in an even greater coincidence both took place on Route 4. Also known as Pennsylvania Avenue, Route 4 runs from Washington D.C. to Calvert County, and passes through Upper Marlboro and Dunkirk. With easy access to and from 495 it is a highway that has witnessed more than its share of drug and alcohol related traffic incidents. State and local law enforcement officers frequently patrol this stretch of road, and have a heightened awareness for DUI on nights and weekends. These two recent accidents should only serve to increase the police presence in the coming months.

The first accident last week occurred around 3:30 a.m. as a trooper was attending to a disabled vehicle. While the trooper was stopped on the side of the highway an SUV driven by a 37 year old man from Upper Marlboro collided into his police cruiser. The impact then sent the cruiser lunging forward into a pedestrian who was standing beside a guardrail. Both the trooper and the pedestrian were taken to the hospital, while the SUV driver was arrested on multiple traffic citations and taken into custody by another trooper from the Forestville Barrack. The man now faces charges of DUI, DWI, reckless and negligent driving, failure to control speed to avoid a collision and willfully disobeying the direction of a police officer. He is currently awaiting a trial date in the District Court of Maryland for Prince George’s County not far from the scene of the accident.

The second accident occurred just a few days later after two troopers in separate police cruisers were responding to a call about a suspected impaired driver traveling the wrong way on the highway. In efforts to locate the impaired driver one of the troopers accidentally rear-ended the other, sending the lead car across the median and down an embankment. Both troopers were taken to the hospital, with one being air lifted to shock trauma in Baltimore. An officer from the Natural Resources Police later arrested the suspect that the troopers were trying to locate. This suspect did not contribute directly to an accident so will likely only face standard DUI and DWI charges, but you can bet that the prosecutor will call attention to the fact that two troopers were injured in the pursuit.

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adult-1866883_1280-300x225A Maryland man with an active felony warrant was recently arrested in Delaware after he parked next to a police officer with an open container of alcohol in his car. Just after 1 p.m. on an otherwise normal Friday afternoon a Rehoboth Beach police officer was writing a parking ticket when he observed the 29-year old man from Laurel pull up next to him. The officer would have paid little attention to the man, but for the two containers of alcohol that were immediately visible inside the car. After spotting the booze the Delaware cop had no choice but to investigate further, and when he did, he noticed the odor of an alcoholic beverage and other signs of impairment. While roadside sobriety exercises proved too difficult to administer due to a language barrier, the officer did feel he had enough evidence to arrest the man. A blood alcohol test confirmed the officer’s suspicions and the man was booked for drunk driving.

Upon confirming the man’s identity, Rehoboth PD then realized their drunken defendant had an outstanding felony warrant out of Wicomico County. The warrant was issued by the District Court in Salisbury back in January of 2016 and included one charge of felony third degree burglary. Other charges on the warrant included multiple counts of assault, malicious destruction of property and misdemeanor burglary in the fourth degree. The Laurel man also had a warrant for failing to appear in court for a jailable traffic citation resulting from driving without a valid license. Before he can answer for the charges in Maryland the defendant must first be transferred to the Wicomico County detention center. As of now he’s being held in the Sussex Correctional Institution in Delaware pending extradition.

This case is hardly the crime story of the year, but it is of interest to the Blog as we head into the summer months where thousands will flock to the beaches of Maryland and Delaware. In this particular case the defendant made it easy on the cop, but police officers will be focused on open container violations as the tourist season ramps up. This is especially true in Ocean City, where possession of an open container of alcohol actually carries the possibility of jail time. The Ocean City police force increases in size by dozens of officers during the summer months, and these new cops are often hungry to make their mark. Open container, minor in possession of alcohol, fake ID and disorderly conduct cases are some of the most common crimes during in June, July and August. Visiting the coast during the summer months can be a great time, but unfortunately hundreds of summer beachgoers are forced to come back to a Worcester County courtroom in the Fall to answer for a criminal citation or summons. Walking down coastal highway with a beer or refreshing cocktail may seem harmless but it’s illegal and not something that is overlooked by police officers. The OC PD will write hundreds of alcohol and marijuana citations this summer so be aware and make sure it isn’t your name on one of them.

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maryland-280863_1280Holiday weekends motivate thousands to take to the highways to vacation or visit with friends and family. And in Maryland when the weather is warm, a large majority of these motorists travel between the Baltimore and D.C. metro areas and the Eastern Shore. Some stop in the smaller cities and towns along the way, but most end up in Ocean City or the Delaware beaches. Unfortunately there’s only one major thoroughfare between these two destinations, and the traffic can be a nightmare if you leave at the wrong time. Using nightmare to describe traffic might be a figure of speech, as Route 50 gridlock has become just part of the beachgoer experience. The real nightmares out on the highways are the serious car, motorcycle and truck accidents that injure or even claim the lives of those in search of a little sun and sand before heading back to work. Each year the Maryland State Police has made it a priority to do everything in their power to mitigate the increased risk of serious auto accidents that accompany the spring and summer holidays, and this past Labor Day weekend was no different.

In a recent press release State Police took credit for reducing crashes and keeping the public safe, thanks to various initiatives to post more troopers along the holiday driving routes. Initiatives such as Operation Showboat sent troopers posted in the Eastern Shore and the southern part of the state to specifically patrol the Route 50 stretch between the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and Ocean City. These troopers were targeting intoxicated drivers and anyone appearing to be operating in an unsafe manner. All told, MSP reported their troopers conducted over 9,000 traffic stops over the holiday week, and issued over 6,000 citations. There were 119 drunk driving arrests, including 10 arrested over the weekend by the much-publicized S.P.I.D.R.E team, a state police task force dedicated solely toward DUI and DWI enforcement. This task force took to the highways of Montgomery County, which has often been labeled as a drunk driving hotbed by law enforcement.

In addition to the thousands of citations and the 100 plus DUI arrests, the Labor Day traffic stops also produced 64 arrests unrelated to impaired driving. These unfortunate holiday motorists were probably pulled over for some minor traffic infraction (or nothing at all) and then arrested after a search yielded drugs or other contraband such as firearms. Police have made it a common practice to conduct traffic stops as a pretext to some other sort of investigation, and these stops have been ruled constitutional by the Supreme Court as long as there was reasonable suspicion to conduct the traffic stop in the first place. Along with the 64 arrests for new crimes, troopers also arrested 75 people who had outstanding arrest warrants. Law enforcement officers that locate wanted individuals do not even need probable cause to stop or detain, as the courts have held that you essentially lose many of your Fourth Amendment rights if you have a valid arrest warrant. This is true even if the arrest warrant was issued in error or never issued at all, as the only factor that matters is whether the officer reasonably believed you had a valid arrest warrant at the time of the seizure. Moral of this story is that if you have an arrest warrant or are traveling with a currently illegal substance such as marijuana, avoiding the main beach routes over the holidays might be in your best interest.

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bottles-1235327_960_720Maryland’s highest court recently released a potentially groundbreaking opinion by ruling that adults may be liable for the actions of underage drinkers whom they provided alcohol. The ruling stems from two cases involving auto accidents where intoxicated teenagers were the drivers. The plaintiff in the Baltimore County case was walking her dog when she was struck by an SUV driven by an 18-year-old that had been drinking at the home of the defendant. The defendant had allegedly provided mixed drinks to the teenaged driver, and made no effort to assure that the young man would not get behind the wheel that night. The other case stemmed from a tragic accident that occurred in Howard County back in 2009. The plaintiff is the family of a 17-year-old that was killed as he was the passenger in the flat bed of a pickup truck driven by his allegedly intoxicated friend. The lawsuit states that the driver had been drinking in the garage of the defendant’s home with full knowledge of the defendant.

Both lawsuits target a third party that is claimed to be liable for damages caused by another individual, which in these cases are the two teenaged drivers. This theory of indirect third party “social host” liability is tough to prove and until now has never been recognized in Maryland. Upwards of 20 states have dram shop laws that allow liability of establishments arising from the sale of visibly intoxicated individuals that later cause injuries to another, but our state is not one of them. While this Court of Appeals ruling does not address dram shop, it will now pave the way for future civil actions against adults that furnish alcohol to minors. The court opined that young adults under the age of 21 are not competent to handle the potentially dangerous effects of alcohol, and are more susceptible to harming themselves or others when presented with the opportunity to drink in excess. According to the court some of the onus must fall on an adult that was present, and facilitated the conduct.

This appeals court ruling addresses civil liability, and it coincidentally comes at a time when the legislator has just expanded criminal liability for adults that furnish alcohol to minors. In May the governor approved a bill that will soon allow judges to incarcerate adults for up to one year if he or she provided alcohol to an underage drinker that subsequently injures or kills another person while driving a motor vehicle. This jail time provision was not present in the old statute, which under section 10-117 of the criminal code had a maximum punishment of a $2,500 fine for a first offense and $5,000 for a second offense. There will still be fines under the new law and the possibility of a misdemeanor criminal conviction, but jail time will only become a sentencing option in there is a serious bodily injury. Some lawmakers attempted to add a jail provision regardless of the minor causing an injury, though this version did not pass the General Assembly.