Articles Posted in Commercial driver’s license (CDL)

If you have been following the news lately you have heard that Maryland has joined the states that require interlocks in all DUI cases, even for first offenders blowing under 0.15.  For example, see Md. lawmaker: Slain officer Noah Leotta ‘is still on the job’ in the Washington Post.  However a close examination of the record reveals over 50 changes to the original version of Noah’s law contained in the Conference Committee Report.

A key provision in contention would have required a first offender with a test result of 0.08 or higher but less than 0.15 to get an ignition interlock for 90 days.   The House had rejected that provision.  However, that provision was contained in the third reading of the Senate Bill 945.  (The House and Senate had both already stricken a provision requiring defendants charged with DUI or DWI but only convicted of reckless or negligent driving to get an ignition interlock).  In the end, the House and Senate Conference Committee compromised.  They increased the length of the suspension to 6 months, but reinstated a provision that allows alleged offenders to request a hearing to get a permit that allows driving for employment, alcohol education, education or medical purposes for the licensee or family members, without obtaining an ignition interlock in the car.  So while a 6 month interlock is an option, it is not a requirement in the new law.  The new law, which takes effect on October 1, 2016 (assuming the Governor signs it), also requires ignition interlock for defendants convicted of drunk driving (for 6 months, one year, or 18 months).  But in Maryland most of them are second offenders, since most first offenders found guilty end up with probation before judgment (PBJ) – not a conviction.

If you are facing criminal or traffic charges in Maryland state or federal court, call Leonard R. Stamm of Goldstein & Stamm, P.A. at 301-345-0122 for a free consultation.

The Court of Appeals announced its decision today in Deering v. MVA. When a driver is arrested for DUI and asked to take a breath or blood test in Maryland, and the driver’s reasonable request to consult with a lawyer before deciding is denied, the driver may not argue at the driver license suspension hearing that the denial of counsel requires not suspending the driver’s license.

The Court noted that the cases relied upon by the Court of Appeals in its 1984 decision, Sites v. State, which recognized the right to consult with counsel under the federal Constitution’s 14th Amendment’s due process clause, have mainly lost their authority. However, Sites also rested on the state due process clause. The Court said:

Although Sites rested its holding on both the Fourteenth Amendment of the federal Constitution and Article 24 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights, its analysis focused almost entirely on cases construing the federal Constitution. Given the scarce support for that analysis of the due process clause of the federal Constitution, the Sites Court’s rationale rests on a precarious footing. Of course, because the Sites decision was also based on Article 24, it is conceivable that this Court could hold that the State constitution confers such a right, even if the federal Constitution does not. Cf. DeWolfe v. Richmond, 434 Md. 444, 76 A.3d 1019 (2013) (holding that an indigent defendant in a criminal prosecution is entitled, under Article 24 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights, to State-furnished counsel at an initial bail hearing before a District Court commissioner without deciding whether that right also emanates from the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment). In any event, we need not decide the continuing vitality of Sites to decide this case.

Even if Sites remains good law under a State constitutional theory, the ultimate question before us is whether the violation of any such right affects the imposition of an administrative sanction under TR §16-205.1.

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In Maryland courts, hundreds of DUI (driving under the influence) and DWI (driving while impaired) cases are heard every day. The vast majority of cases are resolved by the defendant pleading guilty on the terms offered by the prosecutor whether the defendant has a lawyer or not. However, in state court, judges are prohibited from punishing a defendant who elects to plead not guilty. It is unusual in Maryland for a prosecutor to offer a defendant a result that is better than what would happen anyway if the case went to trial and the defendant lost. So why not roll the dice? The defendant has nothing to lose.

An example of this occurred yesterday in a District Court trial of mine. My client had a number of prior offenses, and although the most recent was over 20 years ago, he did have some exposure to jail. With some judges he was facing a lot of jail time. His breath test was very high. The prosecutor offered him a plea to driving under the influence of alcohol and she would recommend that he be sent to jail. This was the same thing he would get after a trial if we lost, which I fully expected! However, trials sometimes yield surprises.

The officer testified that he received a call for an accident and proceeded to the location. When he arrived he spotted a Dodge truck that looked like the description he received and pulled his car in front of it so it could not leave the parking lot it was in. The officer could not remember whether the truck was in motion or stopped. I objected because the State had never informed us what the original description was. Under Maryland discovery rules, the State is required to provide all information relevant to any searches and seizures. I was moving to suppress all the evidence seized as the result of an illegal stop. The judge took a break to consider the objection.

When the judge came back, he granted my motion, but not for the reason I argued. He said that he was granting the motion beoause the officer did not indicate who was at fault in the accident and that he had not testified that he had been told that the defendant was uncooperative and had failed to exchange information. So he had no evidence that the officer was in possession of any information indicating the defendant had committed any crime during the accident or after it, and granted the motion to suppress, followed by a motion for a judgment of acquittal. Not guilty.
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In the past year there have been a number of developments in the area of DUI law in Maryland, and most of them favor the State.

The Court of Appeals has issued a number of decisions favoring the MVA. In Hill v. Motor Vehicle Admin., the Court of Appeals rejected an argument that the DR-15 was misleading to drivers holding a commercial drivers license (CDL) because the form was claimed to not advise CDL holders that if they refused a breath test the interlock option would not available in lieu of the disqualification of the CDL. In Najafi v. Motor Vehicle Admin., although the Court of Appeals held that Najafi’s right to counsel was not violated, it said in dicta that a claim of a violation of the right to call a lawyer before deciding whether to submit to a breath or blood alcohol test cannot be litigated at an MVA hearing. In Motor Vehicle Admin. v. Loane, the Court of Appeals construed the plain language of Transportation Article, § 16-205.1(a)(2), that the implied consent law does not apply on purely private property. The Court held that despite this plain language that the implied consent law does apply on purely private property and that the issue cannot be raised in defense at an MVA implied consent hearing. In Thomas v. Motor Vehicle Admin., the Court of Appeals held that the “detention” referred to in § 16-205.1 is not required to be an arrest. In Motor Vehicle Admin. v. Aiken, the court held that the MVA need not produce the test strip or form Notification of Test Result, if the breath operator noted the test results under oath on the DR-15A Form. The court held that the MVA did not need to show in its prima facie case that the test had been administered with equipment approved by the toxicologist, because approval by the toxicologist was not listed as an issue that could be considered at the hearing under § 16-205.1(f)(7) of the Transportation Article. In Headen v. Motor Vehicle Admin., the Court of Appeals held that under § 12-111(b)(2) of the Transportation Article the MVA could designate drunk driving offenses as confidential after five years and deny expungement as to those convictions. The Court also held that a driver who is refused a drivers license due to an out-of-state suspension or revocation is not entitled to an administrative hearing to contest the refusal.

In Motor Vehicle Admin. v. Shea, the Court of Appeals reviewed the question of what constitutes reasonable grounds to support the detention at an MVA hearing. The facts included the officer’s statement concerning a moderate odor of an alcohol beverage on the driver’s breath and that the driver submitted to standardized field sobriety tests. An administrative law judge took action against Shea’s license. On appeal, in response to Shea’s argument that the DR-15 Form provided insufficient reasonable grounds, the circuit court ruled for Shea but held that moderate odor of an alcohol beverage combined with a seatbelt violation was an insufficient basis to conduct field sobriety tests. The circuit court ruled for Shea but held that moderate odor of an alcohol beverage combined with a seatbelt violation was an insufficient basis to conduct field sobriety tests. The Court of Appeals reversed, relying on Motor Vehicle Admin. v. Richards, since the Fourth Amendment exclusionary rule does not apply in MVA hearings. The Court also avoided deciding whether a moderate odor of an alcohol beverage alone could constitute reasonable grounds to support a detention to take a test, since the Court found that there was substantial evidence to support the finding of reasonable grounds, namely that the ALJ could have inferred on this record that Shea failed the standardized field sobriety tests.
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Every year the Maryland legislature is bombarded by MADD, the Maryland State Police, and the States Attorneys, and are asked to strengthen Maryland’s DUI laws. Every year the DUI laws get strengthened, they never get made more lenient.  This year they made a number of changes regarding ignition interlocks that raise some serious questions about how they will be implemented.

Prior to October 1, 2011, ignition interlock restrictions were primarily imposed where the driver submitted to a test with a result of .15 or higher, or refused, or had a second or subsequent test failure or refusal, or a second finding of guilt.  After October 1, 2011 the new laws requires ignition interlocks as follows:

Mandatory Participation: A driver must participate in the program as a condition of modification of a license suspension or revocation of a license or the issuance of a restrictive license if the driver:

  • is required to participate by a court order;
  • is convicted of driving while under the influence of alcohol or under the influence of alcohol per se and had a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) at the time of testing of 0.15 or greater;
  • is convicted of driving while under the influence of alcohol, under the influence of alcohol per se, or while impaired by alcohol and within the preceding five years was convicted of any specified alcohol and/or drug-related driving offense; or
  • was younger than age 21 and violated the alcohol restriction imposed on the driver’s license or committed the specified alcohol-related driving offense.

These ignition interlock restrictions run for six months for a first ignition interlock restriction, for one year for a second ignition interlock restriction, and three years for a third or subsequent ignition interlock restriction.  Failure to comply leads to a one year suspension of the license or privilege in Maryland, after which the driver must still comply with the program in order to get  a drivers license.  However after 45 days of the one year period the driver may be readmitted to the ignition interlock program.
 
Many drivers are unable to obtain an ignition interlock because they
live out of state or because they do not own a car. The new laws do not explain how the MVA is supposed to handle that situation.  Additionally, drivers of commercial motor vehicles who need a commercial drivers license (CDL) may also be out of luck under the 2011 laws.

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Defending drivers with a CDL (commercial driver’s license) who are charged with drunk driving is tricky. Each step of the process involves a risk that the CDL will either be disqualified pursuant to state and federal law, or suspended pursuant to regulations of the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration (MVA). Under Code of Maryland Regulations (COMAR) 11.11.12.07 the MVA may not issue a CDL if the driver’s license is suspended. Unfortunately, the MVA interprets a case called Embrey v. MVA to hold that any kind of restricted license is the equivalent of a suspension. Under this interpretation, a driver with a work restriction or an ignition interlock restriction may not have a CDL.

The first hurdle through which the CDL driver must pass is the initial MVA hearing for a breath or blood test failure or refusal. If the driver took a test with a result of .08 or higher but less than .15, an effort must be made to persuade the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) to either take no action or to issue a reprimand, as opposed to a 45 day work permit. If a work permit is issued it will be without the CDL. If the driver failed with a result of .15 or more, or refused a test, an effort must be made for no action. In either event, the ALJ would only have discretion to impose an ignition interlock restriction for one year. Again, this would be without CDL. Additionally, a refusal carries a separate one year disqualification of the CDL.
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