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Challenging a Drunk Driving Charge in Maryland

You’ve been arrested for drunk driving in Maryland and want to challenge the police’s case in court. How do you go about doing that? What is your first step?

How can a Maryland criminal defense attorney help you defend against a DWI case? Here are four of the most common defense strategies in DWI cases. They require asking the following crucial factual questions.

Was the Traffic Stop Legal? 

Under the law, if the stop is illegal, then everything that flows from the stop, including evidence of intoxication, is an illegal “fruit” of the stop and may be inadmissible in court. Therefore, a diligent lawyer will seek to evaluate carefully and, perhaps, attack the basis for the traffic stop. The police normally succeed in articulating a legal basis for the stop, including excessive speed, an inoperable brake light, or even the driver’s failure to wear a seatbelt. Once a legal stop is made, the officer has the right to inquire whether the driver consumed alcohol.

Was There Evidence of Intoxication or Impairment?

The officer must have probable cause to believe that the driver is intoxicated or impaired before he may take further steps to confirm or dispel this belief. In evaluating this issue, your lawyer must carefully examine the Statement of Charges and other information to determine whether the officer’s beliefs and conclusions were reasonable. The officer may have the right to conduct a field sobriety test if he observes such things as an odor of alcohol on the driver’s breath or certain conduct by the driver, including slurred speech, watery or glassy eyes, or other mannerisms suggestive of impairment.

Sometimes the evidence does not justify the officer’s request to perform a field sobriety test. For example, if the only evidence is the mere “odor of alcohol,” this may not justify a belief that alcohol had been used. Alcohol itself is relatively odorless, and the scent of beer, wine and spirits is the actual flavoring of the alcoholic beverage. One who has consumed nonalcoholic beer, for example, may nonetheless emit an odor of alcohol.

Was the Field Sobriety Test Performed Properly?

The “field sobriety test” normally consists of the heal ­to ­toe test, recitation of the alphabet or numbers in sequential forward or reverse order, and the one ­leg­ stand test. Other tests include the finger­ to ­nose exercise, and the horizontal nystagmus gaze test, which involves the officer’s assessment of the reaction of the driver’s eyes to light stimulus. Unsuccessful completion of any one of the above ­referenced field sobriety tests will normally result in the driver being placed under arrest and charged with DWI/DUI.

There may be reasons for field sobriety test failure which are unrelated to alcohol consumption. For example, sometimes the officer’s instructions for performance of the field sobriety test are unclear or incorrect. Sometimes, the roadside conditions where the test was administered are unsatisfactory. And in some cases, the driver suffers from certain physical impairments unrelated to alcohol use that prevent successful completion of the test.

Was the Chemical Test Properly Administered?

Occasionally, the equipment used to test breath or blood for alcohol concentration fail and cannot report results, thus resulting in a determination by the test operator that the driver refused the test. In other cases, the testing equipment is not properly calibrated, or the instructions given to the driver for taking the test are unclear or incorrect. Whether the particular chemical test offered was taken and is accurate is important to the issues of whether and to what extent the MVA can suspend the driver’s license, and whether the test results may be admitted as evidence at trial. 

Talk to a Maryland DWI Attorney

Even if you think you may have been a little inebriated when arrested for DWI, you still have the right to a defense. An attorney will help protect your rights and help get you the best outcome possible. It’s in your best interests to contact an experienced Maryland DWI attorney. A criminal defense attorney will be able to discuss possible defenses with you and your options moving forward.