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Articles Posted in DWI and DUI

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drink-driving-808790__340A Montgomery County police officer was killed this past week when he was struck from behind by an alleged drunk driver at a sobriety checkpoint. The young officer’s tragic death has renewed debate whether Maryland’s DUI and DWI laws are strict enough, as alleged drunk driver had multiple prior alcohol related driving offenses on his record. Many have question whether he should have legally been behind the wheel in the first place. Montgomery County spends a great deal of resources to combat DUI, and the drunk driving awareness signs along 495, also known as the Capital Beltway, aren’t just for show. County and state police officers often patrol that stretch of road and others near it to specifically target impaired drivers in areas such as Bethesda, Rockville, and Gaithersburg. These efforts have paid off with upwards of 4,000 drunk driving arrests per year, but it only takes one tragedy to raise the question as to whether law enforcement efforts are enough, or if assistance is needed from lawmakers.

Unlike three of our bordering states, Maryland does not require first time offenders convicted of an alcohol related traffic offense to install an engine interlock device on their car. These devices prohibit a driver from starting the engine without giving an alcohol free breath sample. Alcohol on the driver’s breath will prohibit him or her from driving, and could also trigger a probation violation. Some also disagree with the general statewide trend that most first time offenders walk out of court with probation and fines rather than jail time or intensive treatment. But these complaints are not realistic, as Maryland is about average when it comes to the strictness of its drunk driving laws. In some states such as New Hampshire and Ohio a first offense for an alcohol related driving violation does not even carry the possibility of jail time. In Maryland a first DUI can carry as much as a year in jail, with is on par with stricter states such as Florida. And depending on the time frames a second offense can also carry a mandatory minimum jail sentence, which many judges around the state are inclined to exceed.

Anti drunk driving organizations are some of the most powerful lobbies in the country, with groups such as MADD and SADD working tirelessly increase the strictness of DUI laws. This is a unique phenomenon, as there are almost no organizations that exist to combat common crimes such as robbery, assault, and theft. We are only recently seeing the emergence of similar organizations that exist to combat domestic violence. There is clearly a concerted effort to battle drunk driving, but as long as bars and restaurants continue to serve everyone’s favorite drinks, and liquor stores keep their shelves stocked it will continue to be an uphill battle. It hardly serves the greater good to throw first time DUI offenders in jail, and engine interlock devices will never be able to prevent a convicted drunk driver from simply getting behind the wheel of another car. Lobbyists and law enforcement should continue to focus on education, especially of teenagers and young adults about the dangers of impaired driving. These groups should strive to develop innovative ways to get their important message across because the classroom speeches and presentations unfortunately do not always strike a chord. The Blog will follow the emergence of any DUI and DWI related proposals in the upcoming legislative session, and we will certainly post an article if anything significant comes out of Annapolis.

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DUI4.jpgDrunk driving has become the most hotly debated and visible crime in the entire country. The amount of media attention and lobbyist money that is directed toward DUI education and prevention simply has no comparison. Sure, the war on drugs is trudging along, and sucking up millions of taxpayer dollars, but it targets dozens of substances, and not one single offense. Drunk driving stands alone for a variety of reasons including the fact that it is so common, and its defendants do not fall within a specific age or socioeconomic group. Teenagers, professionals, celebrities, cops, politicians etc. can be the defendants, and unfortunately the victims of this offense. All the media and lobbyist attention does not go unnoticed by lawmakers and state agencies, and as a result there are pages of laws and regulations governing DUI policy. The courts are charged with the task of interpreting each of these regulations, and this past week Maryland’s highest court released a lengthy opinion after being called upon to do just that.
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duicheck.jpegEach year as the summer months approach the Maryland State Police tries to send a clear message that DUI enforcement will be a top priority. This year the MSP sent that message by way of a DUI saturation patrol during a targeted Cinco De Mayo enforcement. Numerous state police installations as well as the State Police Impaired Driving Effort or SPIDRE were out in full force this past Monday to specifically look for impaired and unsafe drivers. When the dust settled on the morning of May 6th, troopers had tallied 81 drunk driving arrests, which is nearly eight times more arrests than on normal weekday. Troopers also issued over 700 citations and over 1,000 speed violation warnings. And yes, we are surprised as well that the state troopers issued more warnings than tickets. The MSP issued a press release the following day, but it did not seem to pick up a ton of media attention, as only one outlet that we could find published the story. Nonetheless, this is definitely a sign of more targeted enforcements and press releases to come. And with the Memorial Day holiday just weeks away you can bet that another DUI saturation patrol is on the horizon.
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potdui.jpgA popular argument against the legalization of marijuana is that our roads will become packed with stoned drivers, and thus become more dangerous. While this argument lacks any sort of baseline data, it has appealed to those who are set on condemning medical and recreational pot use at all costs. It did not prove persuasive though in Maryland’s 2014 legislative session, as medical marijuana easily passed. The revised medical program will become law in October, and could be fully functioning within 18 months. But legalization for recreational use will undoubtedly be the hot topic in our state’s next few legislative sessions (until it becomes law, possibly within the next 3-5 years), and the marijuana DWI argument is sure to surface. Maryland already incorporates drug use in its DWI statute, but there are no specific provisions, which refer to marijuana testing and legal limits. We can look to other states to answer some of the questions about how the legislature, police officers, and prosecutors will handle this issue.
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juice.jpgThe state Senate recently passed a bill that would ban the sale of grain alcohol throughout Maryland. The bill passed by a wide margin, 37 to 10 to be exact, and now awaits a vote in the House of Delegates before reaching the governor’s desk. This same bill passed the Senate each of the last two legislative sessions, but failed to gain momentum, and ultimately stalled in the House. This year may be different though, as the chairman of a House subcommittee on alcoholic beverages has publicly backed the bill and will no doubt try to convince his colleagues of the bill’s merit. The main goal of the grain alcohol ban is to lower the risk of binge drinking fatalities, injuries, and legal incidents such as DUI and even date rape on college campuses where grain alcohol is popular. The product is most commonly sold under the label of Everclear, which is 190 proof or 95 percent alcohol. It is commonly mixed with fruit juice or other mixers and placed in a large cooler for consumption. The argument from supporters of the ban is that college students have no idea how much alcohol there are consuming, and often drink more than they intend. Whether the grain alcohol itself is to blame is a question that is subject to much debate.
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jfl.jpegThe 2013 NFL season is officially underway, and week one of America’s most popular sport is now in the books. Over one million people attended an NFL game in week one, and tens of millions more watched on television. The sport has never been more popular, and with the concussion lawsuit being resolved, the sport has never been in a better financial position. But the stain of a tumultuous offseason remains; as over thirty active players were arrested from the end of the Baltimore Ravens’ Super Bowl win until the start of this season. Players from 19 different teams were either booked on criminal charges or taken into custody on outstanding bench or arrest warrants. The charges ranged in severity from simple possession of drugs all the way up to murder. Despite the league’s growth in popularity and prosperity, player arrests are an issue that the commissioner’s office will continue to battle in the coming years.
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dui2.jpgBack in May we posted an article about two politicians, a state lawmaker and a Baltimore County Councilman, who ran into legal troubles as a result of alcohol related incidents. Both were subsequently convicted of DUI in District Court. It seems that national politicians make news headlines each week for some sort of criminal or scandalous behavior, and state and local politicians are by no means without their share of mishaps. These two incidents are the proof, and as a result we are no longer surprised to read the stories in local news outlets and police blotters. But in the case of delegate Donald Dwyer, you can’t help but be shocked by this most recent arrest. The delegate’s second arrest in the past year is a political catastrophe no doubt, but the implications of this incident extent far beyond politics.

Just 8 months ago, in December of 2012, the delegate was arrested and charged with operating a vessel while under the influence of alcohol after he crashed his boat on an Anne Arundel County river. Numerous people, including children, were injured as a result of this boat accident, after which the delegate admitted to drinking at least 8 beers. He subsequently pled guilty to this offense and was sentenced to probation and 30 days in the county jail. But he was able to avoid serving that sentence after his defense attorney filed a de novo appeal to the Circuit Court. Under Maryland law, a criminal defendant has an absolute right to appeal a District Court criminal judgment, and upon filing the appeal the case basically starts over from scratch in the Circuit Court. In this particular case the delegate did not have to immediately serve his jail sentence because he was given an appeal bond, which is commonly granted to first time offenders. On August 6th Dwyer once again pled guilty to the alcohol charge and was given a sentencing date of October 25th of this year. Sentencing was set off to allow him to continue alcohol abuse treatment and education, the progress reports of which would be used as mitigation at the sentencing hearing. This is a common practice in DUI cases in order to obtain a probation before judgment or PBJ, and in more serious cases a suspended jail sentence.

Rather than take advantage of the delayed sentencing date to build a resume of mitigation, the delegate did just the opposite. Two weeks after pleading guilty Dwyer was again arrested for DUI and a host of other traffic infractions such as negligent driving, this time on the roadway and not the waterway. Nobody was injured and there was no accident, but that should matter little to the delegate’s colleagues, the public, and the judge. Fellow state lawmakers have already been outspoken about Dwyer’s behavior and public backlash is imminent. But for now the delegate has bigger problems to deal with. The assistant state’s attorney has already filed a motion to revoke Dwyer’s appeal bond, which will be heard next week. If the judge revokes the bond Dwyer will be remanded to the jail pending the outcome of his case later this fall. And the judge will undoubtedly take this recent arrest into account when making a sentencing decision. The blog will update with an article as new developments occur, but it is likely that the delegate will be in jail or at the very least in inpatient alcohol treatment for the next two months before he is sentenced.

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dramshopphoto.jpgThe state’s highest court recently ruled on a lawsuit involving dram shop laws, an issue that has been hotly debated for the last few decades. In essence, dram shop laws refer to the liability of bars and restaurants for the actions of their patrons. A state with dram shop laws provides a third party with a legal right to sue a bar or restaurant, which has continued to serve a patron that is visibly drunk, if the patron causes some sort of injury to the third party. Dram shop is simply a traditional term for any establishment that sells alcohol. These laws typically apply to DUI accidents involving serious injury or death. Currently there are 43 states with some sort of dram shop statute, but both the Maryland Legislature and the Courts have not been inclined to follow the majority on this issue, with neighboring Virginia and Delaware sharing the same view. Numerous bills have been proposed over the years, but none has ended up on the governor’s desk for a signature, and the state’s highest court has never upheld a civil action against a bar or tavern for an act of a patron that occurred outside the establishment.
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dui.jpgThe Maryland State Police officially launched its DUI prevention taskforce at a press conference in Jessup last week. The taskforce is nicknamed SPIDRE for State Police Impaired Driving Effort, and consists of seven specially trained troopers. These troopers will move throughout the state with the goal of impacting every legal jurisdiction. For now though, the taskforce will concentrate its efforts in areas that law enforcement officials have identified as DUI hotspots. These areas, which are documented to have the most alcohol related crashes and citations, include Prince George’s County, Baltimore County, Howard County, Ocean City, and Hagerstown. The taskforce first deployed in PG County back in May and conducted over 1,300 traffic stops. The trooper team made 254 DUI arrests and 53 criminal arrests, and issued over 3,500 traffic citations and repair orders. Clearly the task force is not shy when it comes it issuing tickets, as they averaged almost 3 per traffic stop.

The taskforce will require funding of about $1.5 million, which the Motor Vehicle Administration’s Maryland Highway Safety Office is shelling out in response to the large number of alcohol related crashes on state roads. Last year there were 158 people killing in these crashes and over 3,000 injured. Although theses numbers do not indicate an increase over the yearly average, this is still an extremely high number for a state with such a small total population. Nearly one third of all motor vehicle accidents are in some way caused or related to alcohol and drug consumption. Whether the SPIDRE task force ends up being successful depends on exactly how you define success. DUI suppression initiatives such as task forces, specially trained teams, and checkpoints will always result in more arrests. The state spends millions and the resources and manpower do end up putting people behind bars. But the ultimate goal of these programs should never be about arrests, but rather about prevention and mitigation. The real question should be whether SPIDRE actually makes our roads safer.
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alcohol-beer.jpgMaryland law enforcement has officially implemented a boater safety plan in response to the rising number of serious injuries and fatalities on the hundreds of state waterways. The plan, entitled Operation Dry Water, is actually a national initiative, which was created to raise awareness and enforcement of incidents of boating under the influence or BUI. According to the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators, nearly 17 percent of all boating fatalities are caused by alcohol use. Lawmakers and law enforcement agencies decided to adopt the national initiative after a recent three year spike in waterway deaths. In 2011 there were 24 Maryland waterway fatalities and last year there were 11, which is double the 10 year state average.
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