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Court of Appeals rejects man’s argument that he was “sheltering” in vehicle and not DUI or DWI

| Feb 10, 2020 | dui/dwi

Although a Maryland man’s argument that he was “sheltering” in his vehicle and not driving or attempting to drive it while parked near his ex-girlfriend’s house was successful before an administrative law judge and a circuit court, the state’s top court disagreed and found that a Caroline County police officer, upon smelling alcohol, had reasonable grounds to detain the man.

The Court of Appeals held that the trooper who discovered John W. Pollard while investigating a trespassing call had reasonable grounds to believe that he was driving or attempting to drive while under the influence of alcohol in violation of Maryland law.

Responding to a call in October 2017, the officer requested that Pollard, who was in the vehicle with the keys in the ignition and the car running, leave the premises. Pollard told the police officer that he had been asleep for about 45 minutes. When the officer smelled alcohol and noticed that his eyes were bloodshot and his speech was slurred, the officer asked Pollard to perform standardized field sobriety tests and take a preliminary breath test.

When Pollard refused, the officer read the “Advice of Rights” or DR-15 form, which, among other things, advises a detained individual of the possible sanctions for refusing to take an alcohol concentration test and the individual’s rights and right to participate in the Ignition Interlock System Program. Pollard was detained, his license confiscated and an “Order of Suspension” for refusing to take the breathalyzer test was issued.

Maryland law on driving under the influence (DUIs) and driving while impaired (DWIs) authorizes a law enforcement officer who believes that an individual has been driving or attempting to drive under the influence of alcohol to ask the individual to take a breath test for blood alcohol concentration (BOC). If the individual refuses, the individual’s driving privileges in Maryland are automatically suspended.

Maryland law also requires that the Motor Vehicle Administration prove that law enforcement officers have reasonable grounds to believe that a detained individual has been driving or attempting to drive rather than prove that the detained individual was actually driving or attempting to drive, the appeals court noted in the opinion.

Driving is defined as “to drive, operate, move or be in actual physical control of a vehicle, including the exercise of control over or the steering of a vehicle being towed by a motor vehicle.”

Pollard argued at the administrative hearing that he was not in “actual physical control” of his vehicle and was using it as shelter. The ALJ agreed. The Circuit Court for Caroline County affirmed the decision. MVA appealed.

MVA argued before the Court of Appeals that the ALJ improperly required that the driver be in “actual physical control” of his vehicle, rather than that the trooper had reasonable grounds to believe the man was driving or attempting to drive while under the influence. “We agree,” the Court of Appeals said.

The appeals court noted that the 1993 legal decision Pollard relied on dealt with the issue of sheltering in a vehicle and outlined several factors to be applied when determining whether a defendant is in actual physical control of a vehicle for offenses related to DWIs and DUIs. But the court said, the case does not apply to cases dealing with the refusal to take a sobriety test. The ALJ should have determined whether the trooper had reasonable grounds to believe that Pollard was driving or attempting to drive while under the influence of alcohol, giving deference to the detaining officer’s experience, training and observations.

The court noted that, while the officer did not see the man driving or attempting to drive his vehicle and had to rely upon inferences, the officer had reasonable grounds to believe that the man was driving or attempting to drive under the influence of alcohol.

A Baltimore DWI/DUI lawyer can help you with your DWI/DUI charge. Your Baltimore 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 DWI/DUI charges throughout Maryland, including Glen Burnie, Ocean City, Easton, Silver Spring, Bel Air and Catonsville. You can contact Thomas Maronick on his cellphone at 410-885-1775, the law office at 410-885-1775 or via the website for a free consultation.

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