Drivers Can Refuse DUI/DWI Breath Test If Properly Advised of Sanctions, Court Says

Drivers Can Refuse DUI/DWI Breath Test If Properly Advised of Sanctions, Court Says

If you’re suspected of driving while impaired or under the influence of alcohol in Maryland, you’re supposed to be advised of your right to refuse the breath test for blood alcohol and the sanctions that can be imposed for refusing the test. If police officers fail to provide you of your rights and the things that can happen for refusing, the charge or conviction can be thrown out.

Maryland law provides that any person suspected of driving while impaired or intoxicated can refuse a breath test for blood alcohol concentration if they are properly advised of the sanctions associated with refusing, Maryland’s top court recently ruled. This means that officers who charge a driver with a Maryland DWI/DUI must follow proper procedure. A Baltimore DWI/DUI attorney can examine the facts of your case to see if proper procedure was followed.

The case arose when a woman, Megan Smith, said she was coerced into submitting to an alcohol breath test after a Maryland traffic stop. A police officer pulled Smith over while she was driving in St. Mary’s county very early one morning in April 2016. Smith was operating a vehicle without the headlights turned on, according to court papers. The officer smelled alcohol and asked Smith to exit the vehicle and perform some field sobriety tests.

When Smith failed to perform the tests in a satisfactory manner, the officer detained her under the suspicion that she was driving under the influence or while impaired by alcohol and took her to the Maryland State Police barracks.

Under Maryland law, an officer can detain a driver and conduct an alcohol breath test officer when the believes that reasonable grounds exist to believe that the person is driving or attempting to drive a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol, while impaired by alcohol or while impaired by drugs in instances where the officer believes the vehicle can’t be safely driven.

While at the police barracks, the officer read Smith the DR-15 form (Advice of Rights). The form provides information regarding the nature of the detention and the sanctions associated with any refusal to submit to a chemical test. Drivers are faced with different sanctions based on varying levels of blood alcohol concentration as well sanctions for refusing to take the test. Drivers also have the right to an administrative hearing, among other things. The sanctions for drivers who produce a chemical test greater than 0.08 can result in the suspension of the driver’s driving privilege for 180 days for the first offense. Upon the refusal to submit to chemical testing the person’s driving privilege is suspended for 270 days.

Smith signed the form after it was read to her. Smith then asked if she could use the restroom before taking the chemical test. The request was denied. The test revealed a blood alcohol concentration of 0.18 – more than twice the legal limit of 0.08.

At an administrative hearing, Smith said she was cognitively impaired because of a genetic condition and that condition, combined with being unable to use the bathroom, resulted in an inability to consider the choices before her. The ALJ granted Smith’s motion for no action. A motion for no action occurs in an administrative license suspension hearing and is a favorable decision. The ALJ found that she had been coerced into taking the test.

The trial court also ruled in favor of the driver, finding that the officer’s refusal to let her use the restroom constituted a road block that impacted Smith’s ability to exercise her rights under Maryland law. MVA appealed to Maryland’s Court of Appeals.

The Court of Appeals considered whether the refusal to allow Smith to use the restroom before the test was given constituted coercive action that violated the detained driver’s due process rights. The court observed that a person detained for drunk driving must be capable of making a knowing and voluntary decision to refuse the alcohol concentration test. To be capable of making a knowing and voluntary decision, the driver must be fully advised of the potential sanctions associated with alcohol chemical testing. There is a requirement that the state not mislead the defendant or construct road blocks, thus unduly burdening the defendant’s decision making, the court said. With all that in mind, the court said due process was not violated and Smith’s decision to submit to chemical testing was voluntary.

It’s important to note that a person can be compelled to submit to blood alcohol chemical testing in instances where the driver is involved in a fatal or life-threatening accident.

A Baltimore DWI/DUI lawyer can help you with your DWI/DUI charge. Your Maryland DWI/DUI attorney can go over the facts of your case to help determine how best to fight the accusations. The consultation is free. The attorneys at The Law Offices of Thomas J. Maronick have experience with Maryland DWI/DUI charges throughout Maryland. You can contact Thomas Maronick on his cellphone at 202.288.0167, the law office at 410.934.3007 or via our website for a free consultation.