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Roadside noise, two officers speaking at same time, didn’t interfere with advising of Maryland DWI driver’s rights

| Feb 17, 2020 | dui/dwi |

Despite being distracted by one officer reading his rights and another officer asking questions, a Maryland motorist who was stopped for suspicion of driving while under the influence of alcohol (DWI) and who refused a blood alcohol concentration test was fully advised of his rights, Maryland’s top court has ruled.

Maryland traffic stop

In April 2018, a Maryland police officer observed Brian Barrett “commit multiple traffic violations, including driving above the posted speed limit and making unsafe lane changes,” according to the court’s opinion. When Barrett was stopped, the officer smelled alcohol and noticed that Barrett’s speech was slurred, the court noted. The officer ordered Barrett out of the vehicle and conducted standardized field sobriety tests. Because Barrett “performed poorly on the tests and showed other signs of impairment,” the officer handcuffed him and placed him in the front passenger seat of his patrol vehicle.

Barrett was read the DR-15 while he was in the police car. The DR-15 is an advice of rights form. It’s a standard from created by the MVA that outlines the sanctions for test refusal and it contains all the advice officers are required to provide to detained motorists. The form also includes a provision regarding test refusals by commercial driver’s license (CDL) holders stating that if the stopped driver holds a CDL and was driving a non-commercial vehicle when stopped and the driver refuses to submit to a test, then the CDL will be disqualified for one year for a first offense or for life if the CDL has previously been disqualified for at least on year under Maryland law, federal law or any other state’s law. Barrett holds a CDL.

Barrett said that while the advisement of rights form was being read to him, another officer was asking him several questions such as whether he would submit to a blood alcohol concentration test. After asking seven times about Barrett’s taking the BAC test with no response, the officer marked on the DR-15 that Barrett refused the test, according to the court opinion. Barrett also signed the DR-15 at the police station, acknowledging that had read the form or that the form had been read to him. As required by Maryland law, Barrett’s driver’s license was subject to a 270-day suspension and his refusal to take the test prompted a one-year suspension of his commercial driver’s license.

Distracted by police questions

Barrett asked for an administrative hearing. At the hearing, he said he was not fully advised of his rights because of roadside noise and being distracted by the questioning of the second officer while the DR-15 was read. Barrett also testified that he asked the second officer to stop speaking. The administrative law judge (ALJ) ruled against Barrett, explaining that he didn’t find it credible that the other officer could talk so much that Barrett couldn’t understand the form in front of him. The ALJ ordered that Barrett’s CDL remain disqualified for a year; but rather than uphold the 270-day driver’s license suspension, the ALJ allowed Barrett to participate in the Ignition Interlock System Program.

Barrett appealed the ALJ’s decision to the Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County. The court reversed, concluding that Barrett was not fully advised of his rights because could not be expected to understand and decide whether to take the test while being questioned by an officer. But, the Court of Appeals disagreed, reinstating the ALJ’s decision. The court said Barrett was advised of his rights despite two police officers speaking to him simultaneously – one reading the DR-15 and the other asking questions.

The court pointed out that any person detained under suspicion of driving or attempting to drive in the state while under the influence of alcohol (Maryland DUI or DWI), drugs or both has given implied consent to take a blood alcohol concentration test, according to Maryland law and that the purpose of the DR-15 is not to provide procedural protections to drivers who are suspected to be impaired by drugs or alcohol or both. The court said it has “repeatedly” held that due process is satisfied when the motorist reads or is read the DR-15 and that, despite being distracted while the DR-15 is being read, if an administrative law judge finds that a motorist was fully advised of his rights, that determination will not be disturbed if supported by substantial evidence.

A Baltimore DWI/DUI lawyer can help you with your Baltimore DWI/DUI charge. Your Baltimore DWI/DUI attorney can go over the facts of your case to help determine how best to fight the charges. The consultation is free. The attorneys at The Law Offices of Thomas J. Maronick have experience with DWI/DUI defense 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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