– Going to Court
In 2013, more than 23,000
people were arrested in Maryland on suspicion of driving under the influence of
alcohol. In 2014, Olympic swimmer
Michael Phelps was arrested for DUI. As
an attorney who has represented clients charged with DUI and DWI offenses in
Maryland for many years, we see people come in from all walks of life. Getting pulled over and arrested for drunk
driving can be a scary situation. As
experienced advocates, we are here to assist you in protecting your rights,
making sure that you are treated fairly and mitigating the damage that a DUI or
DWI charge will have in your life. Even
if you have committed the offense, there is much that an experienced attorney
can do to help you. The scope of this
article will cover what to expect when you go to court. For more information about what happens
before court, read our other articles: Handling a DUI/DWI Stop and Will I lose my Driver's License?
What is the difference between a DUI and a DWI? While the terms “driving under the influence”
and “driving while impaired” may be used interchangeably by the public, they
are separate and distinct terms when it comes to the law. The difference between a DUI and DWI has to
do with the amount of alcohol that is in a person’s bloodstream. This is referred to as the persons
blood-alcohol content (BAC). Both crimes
are misdemeanors in Maryland. Of the two
offense, the DUI is more serious. For a
first time offender, a DUI carries a maximum penalty of a $1,000 fine and one
year in jail. A DWI on the other hand is
punishable by a $500 fine and two months in jail. A DUI conviction will result in 12 points
assessed against the defendant’s Maryland driver’s license. A DWI will result in 8 points being assessed.
Driving under the
influence of alcohol (DUI) is the more serious crime. It requires that the alcohol the person has
consumed has substantially impaired the person’s normal coordination. A BAC of .08 (g alc/100 ml blood or g/alc 210
ml breath) or higher creates a permissive inference that the driver was under
the influence of alcohol at the time of driving. While the BAC is the most common way that the
state will secure a conviction, evidence other than a blood alcohol or breath
alcohol test may be used to support a conviction.
In the absence of a test
for BAC, the state must prove that the defendant consumed alcohol prior to
driving. Evidence of alcohol consumption
may include the odor of an alcoholic beverage on the defendant’s breath, the
appearance of four out of six clues or greater on the horizontal gaze nystagmus
test, or an admission by the defendant that he was drinking.
Driving while impaired by
alcohol (DWI) is a lesser-included offense to DUI. Proof of DWI requires that the state prove
only that alcohol has impaired the person’s normal coordination to some
Depending on whether the
defendant submitted to a blood-alcohol test, the state may or may not have the
results of a test for intoxication to present as evidence. If the defendant has submitted to a test, the
results of that test may be used as evidence in the case. There is a presumption for a test result of
less than .05 that the person is not under the influence and not impaired.
If the test results
exceed .05 but are less than .07, there is no presumption, however the evidence
of the alcohol content may be considered by the judge or jury, along with other
evidence in the case, to determine whether the person was driving while impaired
or driving under the influence.
A result between .07 and
.08 creates a prima facie case that the person was driving while under the
influence. A result of .08 or more
creates a permissive influence that the driver was operating the vehicle under the
influence per se. The defendant is free
to argue that the test results are unreliable or that the test results do not
reflect the amount of alcohol in the blood at the time of driving.
If the defendant has
drugs or medication in their system, there is also a possibility of conviction
for driving while under the influence of drugs or drugs and alcohol. This offense, which does not necessarily
require the state to prove the presence of alcohol, although that may be a
contributing factor, carries a maximum penalty of two months in jail and a $500
fine, as well as eight points on the driver’s license. A separate crime exists where a person is
driving while impaired by a controlled dangerous substance. This would be a substance that is banned or available
only by prescription. This offense
carries a penalty of one year in jail and a $1,000 fine and the possibility of
Was the Defendant driving?
While in most arrests,
the question of whether the defendant was driving is a non-issue, it does crop
up from time to time. Under the Maryland
code, driving is defined as follows:
“Drive” means to drive, operate, move, or be in actual physical
control of a vehicle, including the exercise of control over the steering of a
vehicle being towed by a motor vehicle.
The question of whether
the defendant was driving usually comes up when an officer finds the driver
asleep in the vehicle or passed out.
Maryland has adopted what some courts refer to as the “shelter
doctrine.” This allows an intoxicated
individual to use the vehicle as shelter or “sleep it off”, but prohibits
operation of the vehicle in an impaired or intoxicated state. Whether the person operated the vehicle is
usually proven through circumstantial evidence.
The factors used to determine whether the defendant was in actual
control of the vehicle include: (1) whether or not the vehicle’s engine was
running, or the ignition on; (2) where and in what position the person is found
in the vehicle; (3) whether the person is awake or asleep; (4) where the
vehicle’s ignition key is located; (5) whether the vehicle’s headlights are on;
and (6) whether the vehicle is located in the roadway or is legally parked.
Evaluating your case. When
you meet with us, we will thoroughly evaluate your case. We conduct appropriate discovery under the
Maryland Rules and, together with the information provided by you, work
diligently to obtain the best result for you.
We evaluate each case to determine whether the state can prove each and
every element of the charges. We will
then discuss the case with you and explain the evidence and answer your
questions. We can usually give you a
good idea of what to expect when you go to court based on our experience.
Mitigating the Damage. In
the event that the evidence provided by the state is sufficient to support a
conviction, the defendant will usually choose to enter a plea. We work hard to negotiate the best possible
plea for you given the evidence in your case.
In many cases we are able to get the most serious charges
dismissed. When a defendant enters a
plea on a less serious offense, it limits the ability of the court to impose a
sentence. For example, if a client is charged
with a DUI, but we negotiate a plea to a DWI, that reduces the potential
exposure from $1,000 fine/1 year jail and 12 points to $500 fine/2 months jail
and 8 points. In many circumstances we
are able to reduce or eliminate active jail time entirely. Most individuals facing a first-time DUI
offense will not face active jail time.
An important component of a DUI/DWI case is
going to be the lasting impact in terms of both the criminal record and the
driving record. Where an individual is
arrested for a DUI or DWI for the first time, our goal is to secure a probation
before judgment. Where a defendant
receives a probation before judgment from the court, no conviction is entered
which means that the defendant avoids getting a criminal record and also avoids
the offense from appearing on their driving record. Since the offense does not appear on the
record, there are no points imposed.
There are many factors
that the court will take into consideration when deciding on a request for
probation before judgment. These include
the defendant’s prior record, the nature of the offense and the steps that the
defendant has taken to show remorse and responsibility for his or her
behavior. We encourage our clients to
immediately obtain an alcohol assessment from a local provider as well as
enroll in any classes or treatment program that is recommended. Taking these steps prior to going to court
puts our clients in the best position to obtain a probation before judgment
from the court. When the court grants a probation
before judgment, it is generally conditioned upon the completion of any
recommended classes or treatment.
The attorneys at Baldwin, Briscoe & Steinmetz, P.C. have years of experience handling DUI and DWI cases. We can evaluate your case and go over your
options with no cost or obligation. We
offer a free consultation for DUI matters.
The information contained on this page is provided as general
information and does not constitute legal advice. The experienced attorneys at Baldwin &
Briscoe, P.C. can assist you if you are facing a suspension of your driver’s
license, a DUI, a DWI, or other criminal charges. Call today to schedule your free,
no-obligation, in-office-consultation for any driver’s license suspension
hearing or driving-related criminal charges.
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