1. Change “reasonable grounds” in § 16-205.1 to “probable cause”
The Fourth Amendment requires articulable reasonable suspicion to stop a vehicle, Whren v. U.S., 517 U.S. 806, 116 S. Ct. 1769, 135 L. Ed. 2d 89 (1996) and probable cause to effect an arrest. Hayes v. Florida, 470 U.S. 811, 105 S. Ct. 1643, 84 L. Ed. 2d 705 (1985). However, the Court of Appeals has made it clear that the Fourth Amendment does not apply in MVA hearings. Motor Vehicle Admin. v. Richards, 356 Md. 356, 739 A.2d 58 (1999).
The officer is not required to recite the basis for the stop on the sworn statement submitted to the MVA in support of a suspension. Motor Vehicle Admin. v. Lipella, 427 Md. 455, 48 A.3d 803 (2012). The driver may only prevail on the ground of a bad stop if the driver shows the officer acted in bad faith in effecting the stop. Id.; COMAR 11.11.02.10(H).
Transp. § 16-205.1 requires an officer to detain the driver and request a test if the officer has “reasonable grounds” to believe the driver is driving while impaired. In Motor Vehicle Admin. v. Shepard, 399 Md. 241, 923 A.2d 100 (2007) the Court of Appeals construed “reasonable grounds” to be the equivalent of articulable reasonable suspicion to believe the driver is impaired. Thus while the Fourth Amendment requires the officer to have probable cause before making an arrest, § 16-205.1 requires the officer to “detain,” i.e., effectively arrest the driver, with articulable reasonable suspicion. Thus the officer is given conflicting instructions, to not make and to make an arrest at the same time, if there is only articulable reasonable suspicion.
Cases after Shepard have considered various factual scenarios, each sustaining suspensions with less evidence than the previous case, lowering the evidence required to sustain a finding of “reasonable grounds” and weakening the protection against unreasonable detention encompassed within the Fourth Amendment. E.g., Motor Vehicle Admin. v. Shea, 415 Md. 1, 997 A.2d 768 (2010)(seatbelt stop, moderate odor, performed standardized field sobriety tests, but no results given); Motor Vehicle Admin. v. Sanner, 434 Md. 20, 73 A.3d 214 (2013)(strong odor of alcohol coupled with having been involved in an accident). The most recent case from the Court of Appeals on this issue, Motor Vehicle Admin. v. Spies, 436 Md. 363, 82 A.3d 179 (2013), held that if the officer claims to detect a moderate odor of an alcohol beverage, reasonable grounds exist.
The holding in Spies is contrary to holdings from other states. For example, see Saucier v. State, 869 P.2d 483 (Alaska Ct. App. 1994) (slight weaving across line, “normal” odor of alcohol beverage, admission of couple drinks, and refusal of field tests); Keehn v. Town of Torrington, 834 P.2d 112 (Wyo. 1992) (summary judgment affirmed in suit against officer for releasing defendant who subsequently killed two people); State v. Kliphouse, 771 So.2d 16 (Fla. App. 2000) (unconscious motorcyclist who did not cause accident had odor of alcohol beverage); State v. Taylor, 444 N.E.2d 481 (Oh. App. 1981) (speeding and odor of alcohol beverage); People v. Royball, 655 P.2d 410 (Colo. 1982) (odor of alcohol alone, accident without fault established); but see, State v. Gillenwater, 980 P.2d 318 (Wash. App. 1999) (fatal accident, driver not at fault, odor of alcoholic beverage on both motorist and deceased passenger, three opened beer cans).
The Ohio Court of Appeals, in State v. Taylor, 444 N.E.2d 481 (Ohio Ct. App. 1981) stated:
The mere odor of alcohol about a driver’s person, not even characterized by such customary adjectives as “pervasive” or “strong,” may be indicia of alcohol ingestion, but is no more a probable indication of intoxication than eating a meal is of gluttony. For better or worse, the law prohibits drunken driving, not driving after a drink.
Id. at 482.
In City of Hutchinson v. Davenport, 54 P.3d 532 (Kan. App. 2002), the Kansas Court of Appeals held that the odor of an alcoholic beverage on the defendant’s breath, without any other evidence was insufficient to support the stop of the defendant’s vehicle. In that case the defendant drove to a local jail to secure bond for a friend who had been arrested. When he left a police officer, who detected the odor of an alcohol beverage on the defendant’s breath, advised him not to drive and the defendant agreed. Not long afterward, the same officer saw the defendant driving his vehicle and stopped him.
The court stated:
Even with the lesser requirements of the reasonable suspicion standard, the trial court properly determined that there were no articulable facts which create a suspicion that Davenport was driving while under the influence or was involved in any other criminal activity. Even if we combine the knowledge of Henderson and Miller, the only facts suggestive of unusual conduct are that Davenport had alcohol on his breath and that he stated he was walking. Neither of these facts by themselves or together create a reasonable suspicion that justified Miller stopping Davenport in the absence of some indication that he was intoxicated and too impaired to drive.
The City cites many cases to bolster its argument that the stop was proper. In each situation where the court found the stop to be proper, however, there were some facts which indicated that the defendant had engaged in some illegal activity prior to being stopped. Here, no such facts exist. Alcohol on one’s breath alone does not provide a reasonable suspicion to support a stop, nor does the statement by Davenport that he was walking.
Davenport, 54 P.3d at 535.
A chief danger of the lower standard and eased application of that standard is that a number of drivers who are not impaired will be stopped and detained, and as a result of reasons that may be consistent with innocence will refuse to submit to a breath test and will face license suspension and/or ignition interlock. In counsel’s experience, people refuse for a myriad of reasons, including, but not limited to, misunderstanding the advice of sanctions provided by the police or being improperly induced by the officer to refuse the test. This was recognized by the Maryland State Bar Association Criminal Pattern Jury Instruction Committee in the jury instruction for refusal which states:
Driving Under the Influence of Alcohol and Driving While Impaired by Alcohol — Effect of Refusal to Submit to Blood or Breath Test
You have heard evidence that the defendant refused to submit to a test to determine [his] [her] [alcohol level] [the presence of drugs or a controlled dangerous substance]. You must first decide whether the defendant refused to submit to a test. If you find that the defendant refused to submit to a test, you must then decide whether this refusal is evidence of guilt. Refusal to submit to a test may be based on reasons that are consistent with innocence or other reasons that are consistent with guilt. In order to decide whether the defendant refused to submit to a test and what, if any, weight to give the refusal, you should consider all of the evidence in the case.
If § 16-205.1 were amended to replace the phrase “reasonable grounds” with “probable cause” in every location where it appears, the obligations imposed on police officers and protections available to drivers would be the same as is provided by the Fourth Amendment. Additionally, the danger that innocent drivers will be swept up in the broad drunk driving dragnet would be reduced.