Maryland Court Of Appeals Holds That DWI’s Suspects’ Right To Counsel Is Limited In Administrative Actions

Earlier this year, this blog discussed oral arguments heard by the Maryland Court of Appeals in the case of Motor Vehicle Administration v. Deering, in which it had been called upon to decide whether law enforcement officers can deny a motorist’s request to consult with an attorney prior to submitting to a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) test. Last week, the Court issued a controversial decision in the case, holding that drivers in Maryland impliedly consent to take a BAC test at a police officer’s request as a condition of having their license, and by providing such consent, essentially waive their right to counsel.

The case stems from a May 3, 2012, traffic stop of April Marie Deering by a Fruitland, Maryland police officer. The officer placed Deering under arrest for DWI and transported her to the Maryland State Police barracks where he asked her submit to a breathalyzer test to determine her blood alcohol content. Deering requested that she be permitted to call her attorney prior to taking the test, but the officer refused. After the officer read a written statement informing Deering that the penalty for refusing to take the test was automatic suspension of her license, Deering took the test, showing a BAC reading of 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.

Prior to trial, Deering moved to suppress the BAC results, and the trial judge agreed, holding that Deering had a right to call her attorney. The trial court then overturned Deering’s 90-day license suspension, which an administrative law judge had imposed. In a 7-0 decision reversing the order to overturn Deering’s license suspension, the Court of Appeals distinguished the administrative penalty of a suspended license from a criminal prosecution for aleged drunk driving. The Court recognized that while under the Court’s holding in Sites v. State drivers do have a due process right to consult an attorney when a positive blood-alcohol test could result in prosecution, in the context of an administrative proceeding due to Maryland’s implied consent law, no such right exists.

Writing for the Court, Judge McDonald opined, “A driver’s interest in the continued right to drive in Maryland is certainly an important one that can affect the individual’s ability to work and otherwise function in society. That interest must be weighed against the public interest to deter drunk driving and to protect the public, not to mention the impaired driver, from the consequences, often fatal, of impaired driving.”

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.