Maryland, like most states, takes drunk driving seriously. While the penalties vary, even a driver’s license suspension can significantly affect one’s life. It can impact one’s ability to go to one’s place of business or school, pick up the kids or buy groceries.
In a recent case, an officer responding to an accident noted the odor of alcohol coming from the breath of the defendant. He arrested the defendant and asked him to take a blood test to determine blood alcohol concentration. The defendant was taken to the hospital.
At the hospital the defendant was warned of consequences for refusing a chemical test for alcohol. He agreed to take the test. The specimen of his blood was found to be more than twice the legal limit and it was certified by the law enforcement officer. He noted that the reasonable grounds for his belief of the defendant’s intoxication was that he responded to the accident and smelled the alcohol.
The defendant’s driver’s license was suspended for 90 days. He requested a hearing to challenge the Motor Vehicle Administration (MVA) order of suspension. The law enforcement officer was not subpoenaed for the hearing but his certification was part of the exhibits. The defendant argued that there was nothing in the record to show that the law enforcement officer who stopped him had reasonable grounds to ask him to take a blood alcohol concentration test. He claimed that alcohol breath wasn’t sufficient.
The law enforcement officer didn’t appear after being asked to do so. The defendant renewed his request for what’s called a “no action.” The judge noted that the accident was more than enough basis for the law enforcement officer to believe he was driving under the influence. He also noted that any number of reasons could be reasons to interact with a driver, including missing tags or a busted light. He asked if the defendant wanted to testify on the merits or offer other evidence, but the defendant declined.
The order of suspension was upheld. The defendant then challenged the order in Circuit Court, which reversed. The court found there was insufficient evidence because a motor vehicle accident with two vehicles could result from the other driver’s fault or nobody’s fault. It ruled that only if the defendant were at fault would it be reasonable to conclude he was drunk driving. It noted that the administrative law judge had conclusively drawn inferences from the available evidence even though she had previously claimed to need the law enforcement officer’s testimony.
An appellate court looked at the question of whether a police officer’s certification of the odor of alcohol on the breath coupled with a driver’s involvement in a motor vehicle accident are reasonable grounds to ask for an alcohol content test.
The appellate court explained its narrow role: determining whether there was substantial evidence to support an agency’s finding and to find out whether a mistaken conclusion of law was used to reach a ruling. The court explained that Maryland law allows any person to be detained who is suspected of “driving or attempting to drive while under the influence of alcohol.” Probable cause isn’t necessary before requesting that the driver take a blood test, but reasonable grounds for the request is.
The term “reasonable grounds” means “reasonable articulable suspicion”—a low standard. Accordingly, the appellate court found that the law enforcement officer’s certification that he smelled alcohol on the defendant’s breath and the defendant’s involvement in a crash was all that was necessary to meet the standard. The defendant could have chosen to testify or provide other evidence to fight the officer’s statement but chose not to do so. The appellate reversed the Circuit Court.
If you are arrested or charged with a DUI, it is in your best interests to consult a knowledgeable Maryland criminal defense attorney with specific DUI experience. Contact us at 301-519-2801 or via our online form.
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