Some Tips About What You Should Do — and Should Avoid Doing — in a Maryland Traffic Stop

Generally, this blog discusses court cases where the accused person obtained a favorable result in the Appellate Court or the Supreme Court. L.B. from Baltimore was not one of those people. Nevertheless, we spotlight his case because his actions provide a list of “what not to do” in a traffic stop. These can only harm your position legally and make the task of your skillful Maryland criminal defense lawyer immensely more difficult to avoid a conviction and jail time.

L.B.’s legal troubles began when an officer with the Anne Arundel County Police pulled him over in Severn. The officer initially stopped the man for a non-working license plate light. This traffic violation is a minor one and carries only a small fine.

Once stopped, L.B. exited his car and told the officer he didn’t have his driver’s license. Driving without a license is a more serious offense, but still only a misdemeanor. It can trigger larger fines (up to $500) and as many as five points assessed on your license.

The officer told L.B. to get back in his car, but the man kept walking toward the officer. As a practical matter, when a law enforcement officer directs you to return to your vehicle, you should get in your car. There will be time to contest your stop’s validity later with an experienced attorney’s aid. At the scene, you generally should follow the officer’s instructions because if you don’t and the officer believes your non-compliance is a threat to his/her safety, you could suffer serious physical harm (like getting tased or shot.)

The man, however, ran away on foot. L.B. had now potentially added a much more serious charge to the offenses facing him. Running from an officer who has commanded you to stop constitutes the crime of fleeing or attempting to elude a police officer (sometimes abbreviated “AEO”). While a misdemeanor, this crime carries potential penalties of as much as one year in jail and 12 points on your driver’s license, which this offense by itself is enough for MDOT to revoke your driver’s license.

Additionally, L.B.’s fleeing – and forcing the officer to apprehend him physically – had the dual effects of exerting L.B. and bringing the officer in close physical proximity. This allowed the officer to smell the man’s breath, which allegedly bore the odor of alcohol. The officer accused the man of drinking and asked how much he had consumed.

You Don’t Have to Answer Questions (and Probably Shouldn’t)

When an officer has initiated a traffic stop, you should be polite and cooperative. You do not, however, have to perform any field sobriety tests (like the “one leg stand” test and the “walk and turn” test) that the officer asks you to do. These are entirely voluntary and you suffer no penalty if you refuse them. You also should not answer their questions when they’re seeking information that the state can use against you in your trial. This includes questions like “Have you been drinking?” or “How much have you had to drink?”

L.B. did not follow this strategy. In answer to the officer’s question, he freely volunteered that he had consumed “a lot” of alcohol. The man followed that up by clarifying that, by “a lot,” he meant a half pint of 80-proof cognac. At this point, the officer searched the man’s car. Inside, he found crack cocaine and a handgun. This resulted in the state charging (and ultimately securing a conviction) on the charge of possession with intent to distribute. Unlike the other charges, that one is a felony crime carrying a sentence of as much as five years and a $15,000 fine.

To recap, L.B. failed no field sobriety tests, didn’t have bloodshot eyes or slurred speech, and was coherent and alert the whole time. Inside his car, the officers found no open containers of alcohol, cups, or liquids, and found no odor of alcohol “emanating from the car.” Nevertheless, the courts upheld the officer’s search of the car as constitutionally valid. The courts determined that the officer had probable cause to suspect L.B. had driven drunk, and that the key factors that supported a finding of probable cause were the odor of alcohol allegedly on L.B.’s breath and his own admission that he had consumed a significant amount of alcohol that night.

As this man’s case reveals, there are things you can do to help your legal cause down the line and things you should avoid doing as they can worsen your legal position. One way to help yourself is to retain knowledgeable legal counsel. The skilled Maryland criminal defense attorneys at Anthony A. Fatemi, LLC have the extensive and wide-ranging knowledge and experience necessary to provide you with the advice and advocacy you need. Contact us today at 301-519-2801 or via our online form to set up your consultation.

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