Articles Posted in DWI and DUI

Published on:

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.

Published on:

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.

Published on:

liquor-264470_960_720Two years ago Maryland lawmakers devoted much of their attention toward marijuana policy, and the media followed suit with daily stories updating the progress of decriminalization and medical pot. Last year was considerably quieter with respect to criminal legislation, but there were still significant changes made to the criminal expungement and shielding process, as well as to drug paraphernalia laws. This year the Justice Reinvestment Act grabbed most of the criminal legislation headlines, and it will continue to do so as it is implemented. Despite all the headlines surrounding the Act, it was not the only significant criminal bill to pass the General Assembly. Lawmakers also took a concerted effort to strengthen some of the state alcohol laws including passing a highly publicized DUI bill named after a Montgomery County police officer killed by a drunk driver. This law will lengthen driver license suspensions for DUI and DWI offenders, and also make engine interlock devices mandatory in certain cases. The legislature did not just target drunk driving, but went after once of its causes as well.

It is actually much easier for teenagers to obtain marijuana and illegal drugs than it is to obtain alcohol. Alcohol is larger and harder to conceal, and because it’s legal it’s actually regulated more tightly. There is simply no black market to buy and sell liquor, so kids often have trouble obtaining it. When they do it is usually from an older friend or relative, or in some cases from a parent. Lawmakers and lobbyists believe that if you discourage an adult from furnishing alcohol to a minor you can as a result cut down on the number of teen DUI cases. While it is currently illegal for an adult to provide booze to a teenager, the penalties are far from drastic; there is a maximum $2,500 fine for a first offense and a $5,000 fine for a second or subsequent offense. This means consequences are not often on the mind of an adult, which is something that the legislature feels is long overdue for a change.

Senate Bill 564 easily passed in both chambers and is a sure bet to become law in October. It increases the maximum penalty for providing alcohol to underage drinkers under 10-121 of the criminal code from a fine to a significant jail sentence of a year for a first offender, and two years for repeat offenders. When the bill becomes law it will likely create news headlines, and the state and local government will have little trouble getting the message out. This specific law does not apply to a licensee, or an employee of a licensee such as a bartender, as there are other regulations for bars, restaurants and liquor stores. The law applies to anyone else caught knowingly and willfully providing booze to a minor. The words knowingly and willfully are elements that the state would be required to prove in any prosecution for this offense, so it is not a strict liability crime, but come October it will be buyer (or giver) beware when it comes to alcohol.

Published on:

drink-driving-808790_960_720A bill created to toughen state DUI laws is on the verge of General Assembly approval, and is likely headed for the governor’s desk this summer. The bill, named after a Montgomery County police officer that was killed after being hit by an alleged drunk driver, gained unanimous approval in the House yesterday and now moves onward to the Senate. Last week some critics felt the bill has been watered down by various amendments put in place by the House Judiciary Committee, but these fears were put to bed after the original restrictions were inserted back in the bill. As it stands now, the bill will make national waves as a concerted effort by Annapolis lawmakers to inflict harsher punishment on drivers who have been charged with DUI and DWI.

The original intent of the bill was to increase the implementation of the ignition interlock program. Maryland is already one of the largest program participants in the country, with well over 10,000 drivers using the device each year. The interlock device requires the driver to blow into a machine installed in the car, and an alcohol free breath sample is required for the car to start. The machine also has the technology to store data of samples that contain alcohol, which may be used in violation of probation procedures. Lawmakers originally wanted the interlock device to be mandatory for all defendants that either refused a Breathalyzer test after being arrested, or blew above .08. This provision was then modified to be an option in lieu of a license suspension, but now the mandatory interlock provision is back in the bill, and it’s safe to say that lawmakers will keep it there. Drunk driving related fatalities have been on a steady decline over the last ten years, and at least part of the decline has been attributed to the engine interlock program.

The bill is not specifically focused on engine interlock, but rather is a comprehensive upgrade of state impaired driving laws. There are also numerous provision related to suspending the driving privileges of those who have been cited or convicted of drunk driving. A first offender that blows over .08 now faces a 90-day license suspension, which doubles from the previous 45-day term. If the Breathalyzer results are over .15 the suspension will now be 180 days instead of the previous 90. Finally, if the suspected drunk driver refuses the Breathalyzer test his or her license will be suspended for a whopping 270 days for a first offense. This is a clear effort by the legislature to convince drivers to think twice before refusing to submit to the test. The suspensions increase upon second and subsequent offenses, and cap out at a maximum 2-year period for a third time offender who refuses a breath test. Keep in mind that an out of state driver who is arrested for DUI or DWI will not face a driver license suspension in Maryland, but rather their driving privilege in the state will be suspended. State and local police officers are not authorized to confiscate another state’s drivers license, but their home state will likely be notified, and may take action.

Published on:

drink-driving-808790__340A Montgomery County police officer was killed this past week when he was struck from behind by an alleged drunk driver at a sobriety checkpoint. The young officer’s tragic death has renewed debate whether Maryland’s DUI and DWI laws are strict enough, as alleged drunk driver had multiple prior alcohol related driving offenses on his record. Many have question whether he should have legally been behind the wheel in the first place. Montgomery County spends a great deal of resources to combat DUI, and the drunk driving awareness signs along 495, also known as the Capital Beltway, aren’t just for show. County and state police officers often patrol that stretch of road and others near it to specifically target impaired drivers in areas such as Bethesda, Rockville, and Gaithersburg. These efforts have paid off with upwards of 4,000 drunk driving arrests per year, but it only takes one tragedy to raise the question as to whether law enforcement efforts are enough, or if assistance is needed from lawmakers.

Unlike three of our bordering states, Maryland does not require first time offenders convicted of an alcohol related traffic offense to install an engine interlock device on their car. These devices prohibit a driver from starting the engine without giving an alcohol free breath sample. Alcohol on the driver’s breath will prohibit him or her from driving, and could also trigger a probation violation. Some also disagree with the general statewide trend that most first time offenders walk out of court with probation and fines rather than jail time or intensive treatment. But these complaints are not realistic, as Maryland is about average when it comes to the strictness of its drunk driving laws. In some states such as New Hampshire and Ohio a first offense for an alcohol related driving violation does not even carry the possibility of jail time. In Maryland a first DUI can carry as much as a year in jail, with is on par with stricter states such as Florida. And depending on the time frames a second offense can also carry a mandatory minimum jail sentence, which many judges around the state are inclined to exceed.

Anti drunk driving organizations are some of the most powerful lobbies in the country, with groups such as MADD and SADD working tirelessly increase the strictness of DUI laws. This is a unique phenomenon, as there are almost no organizations that exist to combat common crimes such as robbery, assault, and theft. We are only recently seeing the emergence of similar organizations that exist to combat domestic violence. There is clearly a concerted effort to battle drunk driving, but as long as bars and restaurants continue to serve everyone’s favorite drinks, and liquor stores keep their shelves stocked it will continue to be an uphill battle. It hardly serves the greater good to throw first time DUI offenders in jail, and engine interlock devices will never be able to prevent a convicted drunk driver from simply getting behind the wheel of another car. Lobbyists and law enforcement should continue to focus on education, especially of teenagers and young adults about the dangers of impaired driving. These groups should strive to develop innovative ways to get their important message across because the classroom speeches and presentations unfortunately do not always strike a chord. The Blog will follow the emergence of any DUI and DWI related proposals in the upcoming legislative session, and we will certainly post an article if anything significant comes out of Annapolis.

Published on:

DUI4.jpgDrunk driving has become the most hotly debated and visible crime in the entire country. The amount of media attention and lobbyist money that is directed toward DUI education and prevention simply has no comparison. Sure, the war on drugs is trudging along, and sucking up millions of taxpayer dollars, but it targets dozens of substances, and not one single offense. Drunk driving stands alone for a variety of reasons including the fact that it is so common, and its defendants do not fall within a specific age or socioeconomic group. Teenagers, professionals, celebrities, cops, politicians etc. can be the defendants, and unfortunately the victims of this offense. All the media and lobbyist attention does not go unnoticed by lawmakers and state agencies, and as a result there are pages of laws and regulations governing DUI policy. The courts are charged with the task of interpreting each of these regulations, and this past week Maryland’s highest court released a lengthy opinion after being called upon to do just that.
Continue reading →

Published on:

duicheck.jpegEach year as the summer months approach the Maryland State Police tries to send a clear message that DUI enforcement will be a top priority. This year the MSP sent that message by way of a DUI saturation patrol during a targeted Cinco De Mayo enforcement. Numerous state police installations as well as the State Police Impaired Driving Effort or SPIDRE were out in full force this past Monday to specifically look for impaired and unsafe drivers. When the dust settled on the morning of May 6th, troopers had tallied 81 drunk driving arrests, which is nearly eight times more arrests than on normal weekday. Troopers also issued over 700 citations and over 1,000 speed violation warnings. And yes, we are surprised as well that the state troopers issued more warnings than tickets. The MSP issued a press release the following day, but it did not seem to pick up a ton of media attention, as only one outlet that we could find published the story. Nonetheless, this is definitely a sign of more targeted enforcements and press releases to come. And with the Memorial Day holiday just weeks away you can bet that another DUI saturation patrol is on the horizon.
Continue reading →

Published on:

potdui.jpgA popular argument against the legalization of marijuana is that our roads will become packed with stoned drivers, and thus become more dangerous. While this argument lacks any sort of baseline data, it has appealed to those who are set on condemning medical and recreational pot use at all costs. It did not prove persuasive though in Maryland’s 2014 legislative session, as medical marijuana easily passed. The revised medical program will become law in October, and could be fully functioning within 18 months. But legalization for recreational use will undoubtedly be the hot topic in our state’s next few legislative sessions (until it becomes law, possibly within the next 3-5 years), and the marijuana DWI argument is sure to surface. Maryland already incorporates drug use in its DWI statute, but there are no specific provisions, which refer to marijuana testing and legal limits. We can look to other states to answer some of the questions about how the legislature, police officers, and prosecutors will handle this issue.
Continue reading →

Published on:

juice.jpgThe 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.
Continue reading →

Published on:

jfl.jpegThe 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.
Continue reading →