Can I represent myself? What can a lawyer do for me?
You can represent yourself, however it would be to your detriment. “Drunk driving” is a very complex field with increasingly harsh consequences. There is a minefield of complicated procedural, evidentiary, constitutional, sentencing and administrative license issues.
What can a lawyer do?
A qualified attorney can review the case for defects, suppress evidence, compel discovery of such things as calibration and maintenance records for the breath machine, have blood samples independently analyzed, negotiate for a lesser charge or reduced sentence, obtain expert witnesses for trial, contest the administrative license suspension, all while counseling you so that the impact on your daily life is minimized.
What are the consequences for drunk driving?
- 1st Offense : maximum 1 year incarceration and/or $1,000 fine, 12 points on your driving record and revocation of your driving privilege
- 2nd Offense : maximum 2 years incarceration and/or $2,000 fine and revocation of your driving privilege
- 3rd Offense: maximum 3 years incarceration and/or $3,000 fine and revocation of your driving privilege
DWI (Driving While Impaired)
- First Offense : maximum 60 days incarceration and/or $500 fine, 8 points on your driving record and suspension of your driving privilege
- Second Offense : maximum 1 year incarceration and/or $500 fine and revocation of your driving privilege
What is a PBJ?
PBJ stands for “Probation before Judgment.” PBJs are generally a great outcome. If the judge offers or the prosecutor recommends, a PBJ it means that you will be found guilty, but will not receive a conviction so long as your probationary term is successfully completed. With a PBJ, the driving points are not imposed against you, and the guilty finding does not show on your complete driving record. Law enforcement, however, will always have access to your record, and your DUI/DWI PBJ cannot be expunged. Moreover, if you have not been convicted of drunk driving within the previous ten years, you are eligible for a PBJ.
I have never been in trouble before, and this is my 1st drunk driving offense, what can I expect?
PBJ stands for “Probation before Judgment.” PBJs are generally a great outcome. If the judge offers or the prosecutor recommends, a PBJ, it means that you will be found guilty, but will not receive a conviction so long as your probationary term is successfully completed. With a PBJ, the driving points are not imposed against you, and the guilty finding does not show on your complete driving record. Law enforcement, however, will always have access to your record, and your DUI/DWI PBJ cannot be expunged. Moreover, if you have not been convicted of drunk driving within the previous ten years, you are eligible for a PBJ.
Why can a police officer pull my car over?
A police officer needs reasonable articulable suspicion to believe you committed, were committing, or were about to commit a crime. If the judge finds the officer did not have a basis to make the stop that may be a defense in court. It is not a defense at Motor Vehicle Administration (MVA) hearings unless it can be shown that the officer was acting in bad faith.
What should I say if I'm stopped by a police officer and he asks me if I've been drinking?
You are not required to answer any questions. Politely responding, “I would like to speak with a Maryland attorney before I answer any questions” is a good reply. By answering potentially incriminating questions, you provide police with evidence of your intoxication. That being said, if you are sober, answer their questions so you can go home.
What is the officer looking for during the initial detention at the scene?
The traditional symptoms of intoxication taught at the police academies are:
- Flushed face
- Red, watery, glassy and/or bloodshot eyes
- Odor of alcohol on breath
- Slurred speech
- Fumbling with wallet trying to get license
- Failure to comprehend the officer’s questions
- Staggering when exiting vehicle
- Swaying/instability on feet
- Leaning on car for support
- Combative, argumentative, jovial or other “inappropriate” attitude
- Soiled, rumpled, disorderly clothing
- Stumbling while walking
- Disorientation as to time and place
- Inability to follow directions
If the officer asks me to perform Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (SFST), do I have to?
A person who is stopped by police and is being investigated as a possible drunk driver does not have to submit to field sobriety tests. However, the officer will normally arrest someone who refuses to take field sobriety tests.
Why is the officer asking me to take SFSTs?
Unlike the chemical test, where refusal to submit may have serious consequences, you are not legally required to take any SFSTs. The reality is that officers have usually made up their minds to arrest when they give the FSTs; the tests are simply additional evidence which the suspect inevitably “fails”. Thus, in most cases a polite refusal may be appropriate.
Do I have a right to an attorney when I'm stopped by an officer and asked to take a field sobriety test?
No. In Maryland, you have the right to consult with counsel upon being arrested or before deciding whether to submit to chemical testing.
What are the SFSTs?
- HGN test: the officer will ask you to follow the penlight with the eyes
- 1 Leg Stand test: the officer will ask you to stand on 1 leg, and the officer watching to see if you put the foot down before 30 seconds, hopping, swaying, and raising the arms more than 6 inches.
- Walk and Turn test: the officer is looking to see whether the person started before the instructions were complete, was unable to stand with one foot in front of the other while being instructed, failed to touch heel to toe on every step, failed to stay on the line, stopped walking, raised arms more than 6 inches, took the wrong number of steps, or turned improperly.
Why did the officer make me follow a penlight with my eyes to the left and right?
This is the horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN) test. The officer attempts to estimate the angle at which the eye begins to jerk (“nystagmus” is medical jargon for a distinctive eye oscillation); if this occurs sooner than 45 degrees, it theoretically indicates a blood-alcohol concentration over .05%. The smoothness of the eye’s tracking the penlight (or finger or pencil) is also a factor, as is the type of jerking when the eye is as far to the side as it can go. In Maryland, the legal effect of this test is evidence the defendant consumed alcohol.
If I pass the SFSTs can the police still place me under arrest?
Yes, however, your performance on the SFSTs may provide a defense at trial. It is very common for people to misunderstand the officer’s directions during SFSTs.
The officer never gave me a 'Miranda' warning, or advised me of 'my rights,' will my case be dismissed?
Because you are not technically “under arrest” the officer is not required to give you “Miranda” rights before, during or after asking you do to field sobriety tests. Once you are arrested and taken back to the station for a breath test, police are required to read what is called a DR-15 rights form. The officer should also give a 5th Amendment warning after he arrests you, which consists of your right to remain silent and your right to counsel. Often, however, they do not. The only consequence is that the prosecution cannot use any of your answers to questions asked by the police after the arrest.
If the police officer asks me to take a chemical test, what should I do?
In Maryland, there are only 3 potential outcomes that accompany a refusal to submit to a chemical test:
- Your driver’s license will be suspended for 120 days for a first offense and one year for a subsequent offense.
- Instead of a license suspension, you may be allowed to drive if you install and maintain an interlock device on your car for at least one year.
- If you have a legal defense the outcome in some cases could be minimized, or even nullified.
Do I have a right to consult with an attorney before deciding whether to submit to a breath test?
In Maryland, you have the right to consult with an attorney whether to submit to a breath test for alcohol, so long as it does not interfere with or unreasonably delay the testing process. The law requires that the breath test be administered within two hours of apprehension.
Can I elect a blood test instead of a breath test?
In Maryland, the driver has no choice as to the type of test to be taken. Normally a test of breath is administered. An exception exists however, if the driver is injured and taken to a hospital, is unconscious or incapable of refusing the test, or if the equipment for conducting a breath test is not available. Under those circumstances, the officer may direct medical personnel to withdraw a blood sample.
Why am I being charged with multiple crimes?
The traditional offenses are “driving under the influence of alcohol” (DUI), “driving while intoxicated” (DWI), and the so-called “per se” offense: driving with an excessive blood-alcohol concentration (.08% ). In Maryland all of these offenses are normally charged. A defendant can be convicted of multiple offenses, but can be punished for only one. If the case involves a refusal to submit to chemical testing, of course, the per se charge will be omitted.
The officer confiscated my license and served me with notice of suspension, how can he do that if I am presumed to be innocent?
In Maryland, a DUI/DWI offense can immediately affect the status of your license. If during the course of your arrest, you refused a breath test or blew .08% or above, an automatic suspension of your license will result on the 46th day after you were pulled over. If you have a valid Maryland license, the police will confiscate it and issue you a temporary license to drive for the first 45 days after your arrest. Additionally, it may be necessary to request an MVA hearing within 10 days of the date of your arrest, such that you will receive an extension of your driving privileges.
What is a sentence 'enhancement?'
In Maryland, the law provides that if you already have a conviction for an alcohol related driving offense, and you receive another conviction, the Judge can sentence you to a longer period of incarceration, as shown in the list above.
Can I get my DUI arrest records, court records, and MVA records expunged?
You can only get an expungement of DUI/DWI arrest records and court records if your court case result is a not guilty, a dismissal, a nolle prosequi, or a stet. If your case result is guilty and you receive either a conviction or a probation before judgment (PBJ) you can only get court records expunged if you get a pardon from the Governor. The Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration (MVA) does not expunge records of drunk driving convictions and PBJs.
Do I need counseling or alcohol/drug education before going to court?
YES. Most Judges place great importance on your efforts to curb whatever habits or bad choices that placed you in handcuffs. For this reason it is smart to do something before you get to court, in order to persuade the Judge to impose the sentence you desire.
What is the best way to get a free comprehensive legal consultation?
In what jurisdictions do you practice?
Jeremy Eldridge and Kurt Nachtman represent individuals accused of crimes and traffic offenses in state and federal courts throughout Maryland. They will represent you if your case is in any of the following counties and court locations:
Montgomery (Rockville and Silver Spring), Prince George’s (Upper Marlboro and Hyattsville), Howard (Ellicott City), Anne Arundel (Annapolis and Glen Burnie), Calvert (Prince Frederick), Charles (La Plata), St. Mary’s (Leonardtown), Baltimore City (Patapsco, North Avenue, Wabash), Baltimore County (Owings Mills, Essex, Towson, Catonsville), Caroline (Denton), Frederick (Frederick), Kent (Chestertown), Queen Anne’s (Centreville), Talbot (Easton), Dorchester (Cambridge), Wicomico (Salisbury), Somerset (Princess Anne), Worcester (Ocean City and Snow Hill), Cecil (Elkton), Allegany (Cumberland), Washington (Hagerstown), Garrett (Oakland), Carroll (Westminster), and Harford (Bel Air). The firm also handles federal cases in Greenbelt, Baltimore, Andrews Air Force Base, Aberdeen Proving Grounds, and Fort Detrick. We also handle appeals in the Maryland appellate courts, and post-conviction work in the Circuit Courts including Petitions for Coram Nobis and Post-Conviction relief.