Understanding the Maryland DUI -- DWI System (Part 1 of 2)

1. Avoid drinking and driving: You need to understand the consequences of:

  1. being stopped by a police officer;
  2. the questions asked by the officer;
  3. field sobriety tests;
  4. portable breathalyzers and police station breathalyzers;
  5. sanctions for refusal to take the police breathalyzer test;
  6. fines, penalties, sanctions;
  7. the effect on your employment if convicted, especially the effect on sensitive high-security jobs and the requirement of notification to employer when arrested;
  8. multiple offenses; and
  9. drug court.

a. Avoid drinking and driving: Before consuming alcohol and knowing you will need to drive home, you must have a plan to avoid driving. The plan may be to have a designated driver, to call a cab or Uber, to stay at a hotel, or to have a friend drive you home. The above may typically cost you $30 for transportation or $100/$250 to stay one night in a hotel. Compare these costs to hiring an attorney at a cost of $1,500/$5,000 and paying a fine of from $500/$1,000. [Multiple offenders’ fines can be twice to three times $1,000.] Add to that, if convicted, the cost of attending a 6-week educational program, including an alcohol evaluation, of approximately $600. For problem drinkers, a 26-week counseling program costs $50 per session, or $1,300 total. Consider also missing time from work to attend the court trial, to meet with your lawyer, to attend a Motor Vehicle Administrative Hearing either before or after the court trial, and to attend appeals from the trial court or from the administrative hearing. These costs in terms of your precious time and money can be avoided by not drinking and driving.

b. Police typically stop vehicles for:

  1. weaving;
  2. speeding;
  3. mechanical issues such as a headlight or tail light out;
  4. failure to use directional signals when changing lanes;
  5. not coming to a complete stop at a stop sign;
  6. failure to turn right when required on a bus right turn lane ;
  7. other acts which permit the officer to stop you; and
  8. one or more of the above

The officer will ask for your license and registration. If you provide both quickly, the implication or suggestion will be that you are sober. I keep my registration in a quart-size plastic bag on top of the other contents in my glove box.

The officer is permitted to ask you whether or not you were drinking, how much you were drinking, and when your last drink was. You are not required to answer those questions but be respectful to the officer in declining to answer. The officer may ask you to take a portable breathalyzer test. You need to understand that the results of that test cannot be introduced into evidence. However, if the portable breathalyzer test has a lower score than the breathalyzer test given to you in the police station, the portable breathalyzer test may be admitted to show the lower score and may result in a lesser charge or no conviction.

c. Field sobriety tests. The results of these tests can be used as evidence to persuade judges or juries. In fact, the tests are not as reliable as one might believe. Sober people have difficulty performing the tests.

  1. In the nystagamus test, the police officer tells the driver to hold his/her head without moving it and the officer asks the driver to then watch a pen and if there is eyeball movement, the suggestion is that the eyeball movement is caused by alcohol or drugs. There are, however, many factors that affect nystagamus.

  2. With the walk and turn sobriety test, the officer must demonstrate the test and if the officer does not, the lawyer can object to the introduction and prevent introduction of the test into evidence.

  3. In the one-leg stand test, the driver is asked to raise one leg and often count backwards and not put the leg down until told to do so. Most often, these tests are performed around midnight and the driver may have started the day at 6:00 a.m. so that depending on the driver’s activities, the driver may be fatigued or tired. The driver may have medical issues such as being overweight or having an inner ear problem affecting balance. The driver may be wearing uncomfortable dress shoes. The test may be administered on a hill or on a cracked or uneven surface or the officer says “create an imaginary line”. The above complications result in an unfair environment.

d. Portable breathalyzer: See above Paragraph b.

e. Police station breathalyzer: You will be asked to take the police station breathalyzer test and advised that you cannot be compelled to take it. However, there are sanctions that suspend your driver’s license. If you need to have your license for work purposes, choosing not to take the breathalyzer may, with suspension of your license, result in a loss of your job or it may prevent you from being able to drive your children to and from daycare. I have a portable breathalyzer and you have up to 2 hours from the time of the arrest to elect to take it. You have the right to counsel. You can call me and I am 20 minutes from all police stations in Howard County. Tell the officer you want to call me at 410-730-4404.

This article is Part I of a two-part article. This Part as well as Part II is intended to acquaint individuals with the Maryland DUI – DWI system. The system is detailed and the hope is that readers will obtain a general understanding of the process.

I am not providing legal advice and no attorney-client relationship exists.

To learn more about your case, contact me by calling 410-730-4404 for a Free Initial Consultation.