An administrative law judge and a Carroll County circuit court made a mistake when they ruled that a law enforcement officer did not have reasonable grounds to believe that a vehicle’s occupant was driving while impaired (DWI) or attempting to drive under the influence (DUI) when she was sitting in the driver’s seat, smelled of alcohol and failed to stop at a stop sign, Maryland’s top court recently ruled.
After two officers from the Carroll County Sheriff’s Department saw a Ford F-340 pick-up make a right turn at a stop sign instead of coming to a complete stop, they pulled the vehicle over for a routine traffic stop. When the deputy approached the vehicle, she noticed a female driver, Ariel A. Medvedeff, in the driver’s seat and a man, Anthony Crany, in the back of the truck seated behind Medvedeff.
Because the officer smelled alcohol, she asked Medvedeff to get out of the vehicle and to take a series of “Standard Field Sobriety Tests” to determine if she had been driving while under the influence (DUI) or driving while impaired by alcohol (DWI). Medvedeff took the tests and the preliminary breath test came back with a blood alcohol concentration level (BAC) of .14. Because the BAC exceeded the legal limit of .08, the deputy determined that she was impaired.
During the testing, Crany told the officer that he was actually the driver and had asked the woman to switch seats with him so that it appeared that she was driving at the time of the traffic violation because he was worried about his security clearance. The officer then administered the field sobriety tests to Crany, which revealed Crany was also impaired.
Both of the vehicle’s occupants were arrested and transported to the local police station for a breathalyzer test where the woman was informed of her right to refuse the test and the potential administrative consequences. After signing the “Advice of Rights” form, the DR-15, and refusing to take the breath test, her driver’s license was confiscated.
At the administrative hearing challenging the suspension of her driver’s license, Medvedeff moved for “No Action,” arguing, among other things, that the deputies had not observed her driving or attempting to drive and that “merely sitting in the driver’s seat of a motor vehicle while impaired or under the influence is not sufficient for a driving under the influence (DUI) arrest.”
The ALJ determined that the investigating officers did not have reasonable grounds to believe the woman was operating or attempting to operate a motor vehicle at the time she was detained and asked to submit to a breathalyzer, in part because the vehicle was turned off and the keys were in the backseat with the other person in the vehicle at the start of the traffic stop.
The ALJ relied on the DR-15 incident report which stated that the passenger and driver switched operation of the vehicle. The ALJ took “no action” and the woman’s driving privileges were reinstated. The Circuit Court for Carroll County upheld the ALJ.
MVA argued on appeal that the ALJ committed legal error by failing to review the circumstances and reasonableness of the request for a breathalyzer from the perspective of the investigating officer. The court agreed. The woman was sitting in the driver’s seat, the officer smelled alcohol on her breath and she failed a series of sobriety tests, the court observed. As the result, the ALJ erred in finding that the officers lacked reasonable grounds.
Noting that “reasonable grounds” is a lower legal standard than the probable cause required for an arrest, the court said a suspension for a test refusal should be upheld only if the law enforcement officer who detained the suspected drunk driver had reasonable grounds to believe that the individual was driving or attempting to drive the vehicle while impaired by alcohol.
In this instance, the court said, the deputy had reasonable grounds to believe the woman was driving under the influence of alcohol, even though she did not see the woman operating the vehicle.
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 202.288.0167, the law office at 410.934.3007 or via the website for a free consultation.