Articles Posted in Sentencing in DUI cases

Apparently yesterday two judges in Montgomery County were imposing interlocks as a condition of probation in DUI first offense cases.  So major traffic dockets in Rockville 413 and 414 were not good places to be yesterday.

The Washington Post recently reported that State’s Attorney for Montgomery County, John McCarthy, has instructed his prosecutors in Montgomery County to request an interlock in most first offense DUI cases.
This is apparently a reaction to the compromise reached by the Legislature this past session where, despite me being vastly outnumbered at the House and Senate judiciary committees, Noah’s law was amended to require interlocks on convictions under § 21-902(a), and under § 21-902(b) or (c) where the defendant has refused a test, and test readings of .15 or higher, but not on tests of .08 or more and under .15 or on PBJs.  So the legislative intent was to not require first offenders who appear to be social drinkers to get the interlock.

Today the New York Times featured on its front page a story about a Baltimore woman who had to endure a $25,000 bond, numerous court appearances, a suspended drivers’ license, and 34 days in the Baltimore City Jail for a first offense DUI with a 0.09 BAC reading: On Probation Lives Can Run Far Off Track – A Maze of Fines, Court Dates and Penalties by Shaila Dewan.  The judge assumed the defendant was a problem drinker without first getting an evaluation and ordered three AA meetings a week as well as required permission for her to move.  Failure to request permission before attempting to move was the first alleged violation of probation.  The failure to provide proof of all of the required AA meetings landed her in jail for 34 days with a $5000 bond she couldn’t afford, before she saw a judge.  The judge gave her a conviction which led to a six month driver license suspension.

The article quoted Leonard R. Stamm.

For a woman of Mrs. Hall’s weight, assuming drinks were consumed over a four-hour period, the difference between 0.06, considered “neutral,” and 0.09 would have been about one glass of wine, according to Leonard R. Stamm, a Maryland defense lawyer who specializes in drunken-driving cases.

Last week the Supreme Court decided the case of Heien v. North Carolina. In an 8-1 decision, the Court decided that even though an officer stopped a driver for conduct that was later decided NOT to be illegal, that the officer’s objectively reasonable belief that the conduct was illegal saved the stop from violating the Fourth Amendment. Surprisingly, some of the justices that can usually be counted on to protect the privacy rights of Americans, namely Justices Scalia (yes he is one of the better ones on Fourth Amendment issues), Ginsburg, Kagan, and, frequently Kennedy, failed to do so in this case. Only Justice Sotomayor dissented from the decision in Heien.

The Heien case dealt with what I will call the two versus three brake light issue. Many states enacted laws requiring two brake lights on cars and also laws requiring all equipment on a car to be working. The two brake light laws were enacted at a time when cars only had two brake lights. Since the enactment of these laws, many cars have been made with three brake lights. As is not uncommon, in many states the law has lagged behind technology. In those states, there has been a legitimate debate about whether a car with three brake lights, and one out, was in violation of the law.

In Heien, the officer stopped a car with three brake lights, and one out. Drugs were found in the car, which is why Heien challenged the stop. The trial court denied his motion to suppress and Heien appealed. Subsequently, the North Carolina Court of Appeals held that two working brake lights were all that was required and reversed. (Maryland requires three). The North Carolina Supreme Court reversed and upheld the conviction, even though the State did not challenge the intermediate court’s ruling on the brake light law. So Heien appealed to the Supreme Court.

One might have thought that when the North Carolina intermediate appellate court ruled that Heine’s vehicle was not in violation of North Carolina law, and that the ruling was not challenged, that it’s conclusion that the stop was illegal would have been upheld, even though the quesstion was debatable at the time the officer stopped Heien. However, the Supreme Court ultimately held that because the officer’s belief that Heien’s vehicle was violating North Carolina law although wrong was objectively reasonable, the stop did not violate the Fourth Amendment. It is important to note that the Court did not say in Heien, as it has said in some cases, that although the officer violated the Fourth Amendment that the exclusionary rule should not apply where a statute or court decision requires the officer to act in a way that is later held to violate the Fourth Amendment. In Heien, the Court held that the officer’s stop did not violate the Fourth Amendment.

The decision is troubling for a number of reasons. One is that frequently high court decisions get watered down or misunderstood by officers, prosecutors, and lower courts resulting in an overall diminution of our Fourth Amendment freedoms, and hence an increase in the number of times drivers observably violating no law will be stopped and detained by police, and the stops will later be upheld by courts. In the past, an officer could not rely on unsettled legal issues to avoid the application of the exclusionary rule to a search and/or seizure. As Justice Sotomayor points out, there is not really any support in prior cases for rewarding an officer’s mistake of law. And there is little incentive for courts to resolve questions of law if they only need to decide if the officer’s belief that the law was violated was “objectively reasonable.”
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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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When a person gets convicted of a drunk driving (DUI or DWI) charge in a state other than Maryland, that state usually sends a notice of the conviction to the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration (MVA). The MVA is then authorized to take action against the person’s driver’s license under a number of provisions.

Artilce IV of the Driver License Compact, allows Maryland to take action against the person’s driver’s license as follows:

Effect of Conviction

(a) The licensing authority in the home state, for the purposes of suspension, revocation or limitation of the license to operate a motor vehicle, shall give the same effect to the conduct reported, pursuant to Article III of this Compact, as it would if such conduct had occurred in the home state, in the case of convictions for:
(1) Manslaughter or negligent homicide resulting from the operation of a motor vehicle;
(2) Driving a motor vehicle while under the influence of intoxicating liquor or a narcotic drug, or under the influence of any other drug to a degree which renders the driver incapable of safely driving a motor vehicle;
(3) Any felony in the commission of which a motor vehicle is used;
(4) Failure to stop and render aid in the event of a motor vehicle accident resulting in the death or personal injury of another.
(b) As to any other convictions, reported pursuant to Article III, the licensing authority in the home state shall record the conviction on the individual’s driving record, but may not assess points for the conviction.

Md. Code Ann., Transp. § 16-703.

If a person receives 12 points within a two year period, and DUI carries 12 points, the MVA may revoke the person’s driver’s license. In addition, the driver may have his or her license revoked or suspended under Md. Code Ann., Transp. § 16-206(a)(1)(v) which provides that a driver may be revoked or suspended if the person “[h]as committed an offense in another state that, if committed in this State, would be grounds for suspension or revocation.”

The Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) who decide these cases have an enormous amount of discretion in deciding what sanction to impose. The ALJ can impose a sanction ranging from revocation to a reprimand (warning) and everything in between. This can include a restricted license for a month or two allowing only driving related to work, education, alcohol education, and medical purposes for the driver and family members. The ALJ may also impose a restriction requiring the driver to enroll in and successfully complete the Maryland Ignition Interlock System Program. Typically the driver presents mitigation evidence in the form of certificates of completion from alcohol education and treatment classes, and letters from an employer verifying a need for work related driving.
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Last year, the Maryland legislature changed the law that required the court to send trial notices to all persons receiving traffic tickets. Now a person receiving a payable (minor) traffic violation and no jailable (non-payable – must appear) companion tickets must either pay the ticket or request a trial within 30 days. If this is not done the driver’s license is suspended until they pay it.

The ticket says:

IF ANY OF YOUR VIOLATIONS ARE MARKED “MUST APPEAR”: You will automatically be mailed a notice of your trial date by
the Court. Failure to appear will result in a warrant for your arrest.

Then further down on the form it says:

IF ANY OF YOUR VIOLATIONS ARE MARKED “PAYABLE FINE”: You must comply with one of the following within 30 days
after receipt of the citation. Provide any change of address if applicable.
OPTION #1 – PAYMENT: Pay the full amount of the fine for each violation within 30 days at any District Court of Maryland, by
mail, or by credit card (fees apply) using the IVR system or the Court Website. If paying by mail, make check or money order
payable to District Court of MD and include citation number(s) on front of check or money order. On the option form below, check
“Pay Fine Amount” for each violation being paid and mail the form with your payment to the address shown for the District Court of
MD.
An additional $10 service fee will be imposed for each dishonored check.
OPTION #2 – REQUEST A WAIVER HEARING REGARDING SENTENCING AND DISPOSITION INSTEAD OF A TRIAL: On the
option form below, check “Request Waiver Hearing” for each violation where hearing is requested, sign and date at bottom and mail the
form within 30 days to the address shown below. DO NOT SEND PAYMENT at this time.
OPTION #3 – REQUEST TRIAL: On the option form below, check “Request Trial” for each violation where Trial is requested, sign, date
at bottom and mail the form within 30 days to the address shown below. DO NOT SEND PAYMENT at this time.

The problem occurs when the person (or their parent!) pays the citation without knowing the consequences. First of all, if any of the tickets is a must appear, then it should absolutely not be paid because a trial date will be scheduled for all the tickets together. The notice on the citation is not clear about this! Even if none of the tickets is a must appear, no ticket should be paid before the person knows everything that will happen at the MVA. And in most cases, people receiving tickets do better by going to court anyway.
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The Supreme Court today announced its opinion in Missouri v. McNeely and ruled that police in DUI investigations may not automatically avoid seeking a search warrant to obtain a blood sample where the defendant does not consent to a blood test. This is the third win as amicus curiae for the National College for DUI Defense which filed an amicus brief with the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

The Court said:

In those drunk-driving investigations where police officers can reasonably obtain a warrant before a blood sample can be drawn without significantly undermining the efficacy of the search, the Fourth Amendment mandates that they do so. See McDonald v. United States, 335 U. S. 451, 456 (1948) (“We cannot . . . excuse the absence of a search warrant without a showing by those who seek exemption from the constitutional mandate that the exigencies of the situation made [the search] imperative”).

It is interesting counting the votes again.

With respect to the proposition that there is no per se DUI exception to the warrant requirement in so far as non-consensual blood tests are concerned, the vote is 8-1 (only Thomas dissented from the holding). Since that was the only basis urged by Missouri for decision, the Missouri Supreme Court was affirmed. Missouri never appealed the question of whether the officer in this case acted reasonably.

As a result, Justice Kennedy wouldn’t touch when and whether it might be reasonable for an officer to get blood without a warrant. He is willing to wait for the next case to do so. In so far as there was a discussion about how to determine when and whether an exigency exists there were 3 votes for kind of a special totality test where if the warrant couldn’t be obtained without any delay at all, then it might not be needed (Roberts, Alito & Breyer). But Sotomayor, Kagan, Scalia and Ginsburg disagreed with this approach.
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Clients charged with drug or alcohol offenses frequently ask why we recommend they submit to an evaluation and take an education and/or treatment class if they are presumed to be innocent. Doesn’t that make it look like they are guilty? The answer is no. It makes it look like they are dealing with a potential problem responsibly.

There are a number of good reasons why education and/or treatment is necessary when one is charged with a drug and/or alcohol offense. The first thing to consider is whether the person may be abusing the drug or alcohol that is the basis of the charges. If yes, then education or treatment may help to minimize the chance that the person will get in future trouble, as well as help them to cope with what could be a very challenging problem. The arrest is an intervention for many drug or alcohol abusers that forces them to confront an issue they might prefer to avoid confronting. It is not unusual for concerned family members to support attempts at getting treatment. A serious drug or alcohol problem can cause more than just legal problems, the health and well being of the client and his or her family or friends may be in jeopardy. Treatment can help.
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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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