Maryland Court Of Appeals Called Upon To Determine Extent Of DWI’s Suspects’ Right To Counsel

Last week, the Maryland Court of Appeals heard oral arguments in the case of Motor Vehicle Administration v. Deering, and was called on to decide whether law enforcement officers can deny a motorist’s request to consult with an attorney prior to submitting to a breath-alcohol content (BAC) test.

The case stems from a May 3, 2012, traffic stop of the defendant by a Fruitland, Maryland police officer. The officer placed the defendant under arrest for DWI and transported her to the Maryland State Police barracks in Princess Anne. Upon arrival at the barracks, the officer asked the defendant to submit to a breathalyzer test to determine her blood alcohol content.

The defendant asked the officer to allow her to call an attorney prior to taking the test, but the officer refused. After the officer read a written statement informing the defendant that the penalty for refusing to take the test was automatic suspension of her license, the defendant took the test. The result of the test showed the defendant’s BAC to be 0.16, more than twice the legal limit in Maryland.

Maryland’s “implied consent” law states that a motorist that has been lawfully stopped and detained by a police officer, who has probable cause to believe that the individual has been driving while intoxicated, has impliedly consented to submit to a chemical test of his or her blood, breath, or urine for the purposes of determining blood alcohol content.

Refusing to submit to a chemical test automatically results in an administrative license suspension of 120 days for a first offense, and one year for subsequent offenses. Police are required to notify DWI suspects of the consequences of a refusal to submit to a chemical test.

In this case, the defendant argued that the police officer’s refusal to allow consultation with an attorney prior to taking the breath test violated the right to due process under the United States and Maryland Constitutions. The defendant’s argument was met with skepticism by Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera, who commented that Maryland drivers impliedly consent to submitting to a BAC test as a condition of having a license, and that the right to due process does not apply when consent has already been given.

The National College for DUI Defense and the Maryland Criminal Defense Attorneys’ Association have voiced support for the defendant’s position in a joint friend-of-the-court brief. The brief states, “[t]he manner in which the officer reads the form can…detract from its ability to be understood. Additionally, most [DWI] suspects have no legal training or understanding to assist them in making an intelligent decision, that usually occurs late at night, when they are tired, afraid, upset and traumatized.”

The criminal defense attorneys of Brassel, Alexander & Rice, LLC have extensive experience defending the Constitutional rights of individuals that have been accused of DWI or DUI. If you or someone you know has been charged with a DWI or DUI in Maryland, contact the attorneys of Brassel, Alexander & Rice, LLC today.