Maryland High Court Holds Car Accident, Odor Of Alcohol Sufficient To Administer Blood Test In DUI Case

Last month, the Maryland Court of Appeals issued an opinion in the case of Motor Vehicle Administration v. Sanner, in which the Court considered the grounds upon which a law enforcement officer can require a motorist to submit to a blood test on suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol.

In Sanner, the defendant, Jerry Sanner, was involved in a motor vehicle accident in Westminister, Maryland, in 2007. The police officer that responded to the accident scene observed the “strong odor of alcoholic beverage emanating from Sanner’s breath.” The officer arrested Sanner and requested that he submit to a blood test to determine his blood alcohol content.

At a hearing before the Motor Vehicle Administration (“MVA”), the administrative judge suspended Sanner’s drivers license for ninety days. The administrative judge determined that, even though the police officer that stopped Sanner did not testify at the suspension hearing, the officer had reasonable grounds to believe that Sanner was driving a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol and therefore justified in asking Sanner to submit to a blood test.

Sanner appealed to the Circuit Court for Carroll County, which reversed the MVA suspension, opining, “This Court finds that there was insufficient evidence before the ALJ to make such a finding. Specifically, a motor vehicle accident involving two vehicles could result from one driver’s fault, the other driver’s fault, or no one’s fault.” The Court continued, concluding that, because nothing in the record supported that the accident was Sanner’s fault, there were not reasonable grounds to conclude that Sanner was intoxicated.

The MVA filed a petition for certiorari, presenting the Court of Appeals with the following question for review:

Does a police officer’s certification that a strong odor of an alcoholic beverage was present on the breath and person of a driver involved in a motor vehicle crash constitute reasonable grounds to request an alcohol content test?

In reversing the decision of the Circuit Court, the Appeals Court opined that Maryland law permits law enforcement officers to detain any person suspected of “driving or attempting to drive while under the influence of alcohol.” Further, law enforcement officers may request that a motorist submit to a blood test if they have reasonable grounds to believe that the driver is intoxicated.

The Court concluded that the police officer’s observation that Sanner’s breath smelled of alcohol, in combination with the fact that Sanner had been involved in a car accident, was sufficient to establish reasonable grounds to request the blood test.

As this blog has discussed before, a DUI or DWI conviction in Maryland can carry substantial criminal penalties and severe indirect consequences. The criminal defense attorneys of Brassel, Alexander & Rice, LLC have extensive experience defending individuals charged with driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. If you or someone you know has been charged with DUI or DWI in Maryland, contact our attorneys today.