Maryland Court Finds Evidence Sufficient To Support Driving Under the Influence of Alcohol Convictions

Under Maryland law, crimes are divided into two groups:  misdemeanors and felonies. Most people know and understand that a felony is considered more serious and typically accompanied by a longer sentence. But a conviction of either type of crime can affect a person’s life in many ways. A common misdemeanor is driving while under the influence of alcohol.  A person may be arrested or charged with this crime based upon proof that the person was actually witnessed driving under the influence in the present tense, or based upon a “permitted inference” that he or she drove under the influence in the past tense. When the arrest, charge, or conviction is based on the latter situation, the question of proof can be a bit tricky. Anyone who is arrested or charged with driving under the influence is strongly encouraged to contact a Maryland criminal defense attorney with extensive experience handling DUI cases.

In a recent Maryland case, Harding v. State, a jury convicted Todd Harding of driving under the influence, refusing to take a breath alcohol test, and driving with a suspended license. He appealed the conviction, arguing that the evidence was insufficient to send the case to the jury. Specifically, the appellant argued that the evidence was not legally sufficient as to whether he had actually been driving the pickup truck in which he was found. In this case, Baltimore City firefighters responded to a call reporting a vehicle accident with “people trapped.” According to the firefighters who were first on the scene, it appeared that the moving vehicle had jumped the curb and gone into the bushes as it came to a sudden stop. One firefighter in particular noted that the appellant was sitting at the driver’s wheel, slumped over, and seemed intoxicated.  He further observed that the truck was still running and had white smoke coming out of it.  An officer also witnessed the appellant get out of the car and stagger on the sidewalk. He refused a field sobriety test and was arrested and taken to the police station, where he refused a breath alcohol test.

Once convicted, the appellant challenged only the sufficiency of the evidence as to whether he had actually been driving the vehicle, not whether he was actually under the influence at the time of his arrest. In reviewing the case, the Maryland court of special appeals framed the issues as “whether the State established a reasonable likelihood that appellant had been driving, enough to allow the jury to consider that possibility.” The court reviewed an assortment of court decisions from this jurisdiction and determined that the key factor in this type of case concerns the location of the vehicle when it is first observed by authorities. Here, moments after the accident was called in, officials witnessed the pickup truck on the sidewalk, partially in the bushes, with the engine smoking and fluid pouring out of the radiator. According to the court, the truck was not in a location where it had a lawful right to come to rest. The court of appeals upheld the convictions, finding that the evidence was legally sufficient to support them.

This case illustrates the importance of knowing and understanding your rights in a criminal case.  Anyone arrested or charged with a crime is strongly encouraged to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.  Anthony Fatemi is an experienced Maryland criminal defense attorney who can work to develop the best strategy to defend your case. Contact us at 301-519-2801 or via our online form.

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