Articles Posted in MVA

The Supreme Court decided two Fourth Amendment cases this week that diminish our freedom from police searches.  The Fourth Amendment says:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Starting with the Supreme Court’s decision in Terry v. Ohio, in 1968, police have been allowed to stop a person without probable cause if they have an articulable reasonable suspicion that the person has, is, or is about to break the law.  Under the exclusionary rule, the government is not allowed to use in court evidence obtained in violation of the Fourth Amendment.  The exclusionary rule exists to deter officers from breaking the law.

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.

Every breath test in Maryland is subject to suppression.  Every administrative suspension based on a failed breath test should be thrown out.  The reason is – in Maryland there is a potential 60 day enhanced jail penalty for every driver arrested for DUI who refuses to take a breath test.  The question is – can the State put someone in jail for refusing to consent to a search of their body?  Can the State make it a crime, or a sentencing enhancement to refuse to consent to a warrantless search?  And if they cannot, can they comply with due process when they use the threat of jail to induce the person to consent to a breath test?  The answer to these three questions should be NO.

There is a conflict among courts on the issue of whether a State can criminalize refusal to submit to an alcohol test.  If it cannot, then any consent obtained by advising a suspect that refusal is a crime carrying a potential penalty of incarceration is coerced and involuntary as a matter of law.  In Maryland, the DR-15 advice used to obtain consent gives this questionable advice.

This is an important issue currently because on December 11, 2015, the Supreme Court granted certiorari in three cases that raised this issue: Birchfield v. North Dakota, 136 S.Ct. 614 (2015); Bernard v. Minnesota, 136 S.Ct. 615 (2015); and Beylund v. Levi, 136 S.Ct. 614 (2015).  These cases will be argued in the Supreme Court on April 20, 2016.

The Maryland House of Delegates took the courageous step of passing Noah’s Law, HB 1342, with substantial amendments.  The amendments make the bill a much more rational and humane way of encouraging sober driving while not unnecessarily punishing social drinkers or putting them out of work.

The law deals with test failures and refusals before court and the effect of convictions after court.

Under current law a person who submits to a test and has a reading of 0.08 or more and less than 0.15 faces a 45-day suspension for a first offense and 90-day suspension for a second or subsequent offense.  On a first offense or a second or subsequent offense more than five years after the first the suspensions may be modified by an administrative law judge to allow restricted driving for purposes of work, school, alcohol education or treatment, or medical treatment for the licensee or family members.  Noah’s Law changes this to increase the suspension periods from 45 to 90 days and 90 to 180 days.  The proposed law also eliminates the work etc. permit provision and requires these offenders to get an ignition interlock for the period of suspension.  The House amendments restore the work etc. permit but leave the increased length of suspensions in place.

The anti-DUI lobby in Maryland has put together a massive effort to pass HB 1342/SB 942 called the Drunk Driving Reduction Act of 2016 – Noah’s Law, in memory of Montgomery County police officer Noah Leotta, who was killed by a suspected drunk driver last December.  The bill proposes a number of changes to Maryland law.

  • MVA penalties for a test result of 0.08 or more but less than 0.15 would be increased from a suspension of 45 days on a first offense and 90 days on a second or subsequent offense would be increased to 90 and 180 days respectively. Critically, instead of first offenders being able to drive with a permit restricted for work, education, alcohol education, or medical purposes, all of these drivers would be required to install an ignition interlock for this period of time.
  • MVA penalties for a test result of 0.15 or more would be increased from a suspension of 90 days on a first offense and 180 days on a second or subsequent offense would be increased to 180 and 270 days respectively.  Instead of ignition interlock being optional for these offenders, it would now be mandatory.

The Supreme Court today granted certiorari in three cases Birchfield v. North Dakota (14-1468); Bernard v. Minnesota (14-1470); and Beylund v. North Dakota (14-1506).  These cases raise the question left open after the Court’s decision in Missouri v. McNeely, 133 S.Ct. 1552 (2013): can a state make the refusal to submit to a breath or blood test for alcohol a crime, punishable by imprisonment?

Police are presumptively required to obtain a warrant before obtaining a blood test for alcohol.  Missouri v. McNeely, 133 S.Ct. 1552 (2013).  The Supreme Court will now decide whether a warrant is required for a breath test, whether the refusal to consent to a breath or blood test can be made a crime, and whether advice that refusal is a crime carrying a possible jail sentence renders any consent to submit to a breath or blood test coerced and involuntary.  However, relevant authority and review of Supreme Court cases compels an answer of yes – a warrant is required for a breath test, no – a refusal to consent to a breath test cannot be made illegal without violating the Fourth Amendment, and yes, advising a suspect that refusal is a crime punishable by imprisonment renders any consent given coerced and involuntary.

Warrantless searches are presumptively unreasonable.  Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347, 357, 88 S.Ct. 507, 19 L.Ed.2d 576 (1967).  Where there is a warrantless search, the government has the burden of proving the legality of the search, that it was conducted pursuant to a recognized exception to the warrant requirement, such as exigent circumstances, consent, and search incident to an arrest.  In United States v. Reid, 929 F.2d 990 (4th Cir. 1991), the Fourth Circuit held that a warrant was not required to conduct a breath test during a DUI investigation because a breath test was a permissible search incident to an arrest and was conducted under exigent circumstances.  However, Reid was overruled by McNeely, to the extent that it relied on exigent circumstances. United States v. Brooks, No. CRIM. PWG-14-0053, 2014 WL 2042028, at *5 (D. Md. May 16, 2014).  The search incident rationale of Reid is also no longer valid due to the Supreme Court decisions in Arizona v. Gant, 129 S.Ct. 1710 (2009) and Riley v. California, 134 S.Ct. 2473 (2014).  The final possible applicable exception to the warrant requirement is consent.  However, where, the “consent” is obtained by a threat of incarceration, the consent is coerced and is not voluntary.  State v. Won, 2015 WL 7574360, — P.3d — (Haw. 2015).

On March 4, 2015, Leonard Stamm testified in opposition to House Bill 532 which would require officers to tell suspected drunk drivers in a fatal or life threatening injury crash that they are required to submit to an alcohol test. Here is the written version of his testimony:

My name is Leonard Stamm. I have been in private practice defending persons accused of drunk driving and other crimes for over 30 years. I am currently Assistant Dean of The National College for DUI Defense, a nationwide organization with over 1300 lawyer members. I am a former president of the Maryland Criminal Defense Attorneys’ Association. In 2014, I had the privilege of co-authoring an amicus brief filed by the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and The National College for DUI Defense in the Supreme Court case of Missouri v. McNeely, 133 S. Ct. 1552, 185 L. Ed. 2d 696 (2013) . The Supreme Court held that a drunk driving arrest does not automatically create exigent circumstances that would relieve the police of their obligation to first seek a search warrant based on probable cause before compelling a driver to submit to a blood test.

For cases where the arrest occurred before April 17, 2014, the day that McNeely was decided, many courts have upheld admission of tests on the ground that where police objectively reasonably relied on a statue not yet held to be unconstitutional, that it would be on it inappropriate to apply the exclusionary rule and suppress the blood test. However, for cases where the arrest occurs after April 17, 2014, that claim of objectively reasonable reliance on an unconstitutional statute is less likely to prevail. The end result of passing the proposed amendment to § 16-205.1 could ironically be that tests showing the driver to be impaired by alcohol and/or drugs would likely be suppressed and withheld from the fact-finder.
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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:

MPJI-Cr 4:10.5
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.
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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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This past Thursday the Maryland Court of Appeals held oral argument in Motor Vehicle Administration v. Deering. John K. Phoebus of Salisbury, Maryland argued on behalf of Ms. Deering that Deering’s license should not have been suspended when the police officer would not let her call her lawyer before deciding whether to take or refuse a breath test. She elected to submit to the breath test and failed. The rule of Sites v. State, decided in 1984, is that when a person arrested for DUI asks to call a lawyer, they must be allowed an opportunity to do so that does not interfere with the State’s ability to obtain a breath test. The rule was clearly violated in Deering’s case, but the MVA argued that the violation cannot be raised as a defense at the administrative hearing, only in court.

An amicus brief filed by Leonard R. Stamm on behalf of the National College of DUI Defense (NCDD) and the Maryland Criminal Defense Attorneys’ Association (MCDAA) came up during oral argument. Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera noted that one of the claims in the brief was that if the Court ruled in the MVA’s favor it would be changing the status quo. The brief stated that the Sites defense has been allowed at MVA hearings for 30 years. The brief also stated that it was only relatively recently that a growing number of judges have started to disallow the defense, as a result of the Court’s decision in Najafi v. Motor Vehicle Administration. Najafi had stated in dicta (meaning a statement by the Court that is not necessary to resolve the case and therefore not binding on lower tribunals) that the denial of counsel defense could not be raised at the MVA license suspension hearing. However, Chief Judge Barbera noted that there was no data cited to support this statement and wanted to know from counsel whether they agreed with it. Counsel for the MVA, Leight Collins, did not dispute the statement and acknowledged that there is no data base from which data could be culled to support or opposed the statement. Rather, there are paper records of the hearings. So there is no data that could have been provided.

The amicus brief was also quoted in the Daily Record.

“The manner in which the officer reads the form can…detract from its ability to be understood,” attorney Leonard R. Stamm wrote in the friend-of-the-court brief. “Additionally, most suspects have no legal training or understanding to assist them in making an intelligent decision, that usually occurs late at night, when they are tired, afraid, upset and traumatized.”
Stamm is with Goldstein & Stamm P.A. in Greenbelt.

A number of judges asked whether officers were required to advise suspects of their right to call a lawyer. The Court had rejected a similar claim years earlier in McAvoy v. State.
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