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DUI Legal Process in Maryland

Following an arrest for a DUI/DWI in Maryland, a criminal charge will be filed in the state court system and an administrative civil case will be filed through the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration (MVA).

The criminal process in Maryland begins with DUI/DWI charges being filed and then a process called “arraignment.”  At arraignment, you will appear in court and enter a plea of (a)guilty (b) not guilty (c)“nolo contendere” which means no contest (this means you do not admit guilt but you do not dispute the charge) or (d) not criminally responsible by reason of insanity.

If you plead guilty or no contest, there will be no trial and you will be sentenced.

During arraignment or a separate hearing, a judge decides whether you will be released from jail until the time of trial. The court or judge will either (a) set bail (b) refuse to set bail or (c) release you on your own “personal recognizance” meaning the court trusts that you will show up for later court obligations. Bail is typically paid in cash or a bail bond.

Although not required, some prosecutors will consider plea agreements: these are deals where the prosecutor offers an incentive (a shorter sentence or reduced charge) if the defendant agrees to plead no contest or guilty.

If your case goes to trial, you have several rights. This includes (a) the right to a speedy trial (a trial within a reasonable period of time); (b) a trial by jury (this requires being charged with a crime punishable by six or more months of jail time); (c) effective assistance of counsel (right to a lawyer, who must do a reasonably good job defending you); (d) the right to remain silent (you do not have to testify); and (e) the right to confront witnesses (you or your lawyer must be able to cross-examine witnesses who testify against you.)

Before a trial, a defense attorney may file certain motions with the court including suppression of evidence (i.e. the results of a BAC or blood alcohol content test.) These motions will be denied or granted, resulting in the evidence being admissible (in) at trial, or inadmissible (out) at trial, respectively.

Finally, after you plead guilty or no contest, or if you are found guilty at trial, the sentencing phase begins. Here the judge determines your punishment or sentence.  The judge may consider several factors in deciding your sentence including: laws or guidelines which require specific penalties for certain crimes; reports  previously prepared by probation officers or court personnel; evidence you or your lawyer has presented showing reasons to apply a less harsh penalty; and information from the victims of the crime.

The severity of the sentence is determined mainly by the seriousness of the crime.  Your sentence may include one or more of the following: (1) paying a fine (usual punishment for a misdemeanor) (2) jail or prison time  (typically the punishment for a felony)(3) restitution  (this includes paying for damage or loss caused by the crime) (4) probation (you may stay out of jail as long as you comply with the terms of your probation) (5) alternative sentences (this includes community service or drug rehabilitation program) (6) death (ultimate punishment imposed for only the most serious crimes.)

After conviction and sentencing you have the opportunity to file an appeal. This is an examination of the trial record to ensure the proceedings were done fairly. It is not a new trial.

One reason for filing an appeal is “legal error” which may include (a) allowing inadmissible evidence during the criminal process, such as evidence obtained in violation of your constitutional rights (b) lack of evidence to support a guilty verdict or (c) mistakes in jury instructions.

MVA HEARING PROCESS

Upon being arrested for a DUI/DWI a police officer will generally confiscate and suspend the driver’s license and send the report to the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration (MVA). A driver has the right to ask the MVA for a hearing to review his license suspension if he fits into one of the following categories:  (1) the person is arrested for driving or attempting to drive a motor vehicle while intoxicated, while under the influence of alcohol, while so far under the influence of any drug, any combination of drugs, or a combination of one or more drugs and alcohol that the person could not drive a vehicle safely, while under the influence of a controlled dangerous substance, in violation of an alcohol restriction or in violation of statute (2) there is an alcohol concentration of 0.10 or more at the time of testing or (3) the person refused to take a test. 3A M.L.E. Automobiles and Motor Vehicles § 95.

This request MUST be sent to the MVA within 30 days. A hearing request will be denied unless it is filed or postmarked by the 30th day.  The suspension will automatically begin on the 46th day if the driver does not ask for a hearing. A request for a hearing sent within ten days of the stop will be scheduled within 30 days of the date the request is received.

The MVA will only consider certain facts at the hearing, including: (a) whether the officer had reasonable grounds to believe the person was driving or attempting to drive while under the influence or impaired by alcohol or drugs (b) whether there was evidence the driver used alcohol or drugs (c) whether the officer requested a test after the officer warned the driver of the penalties for refusal or a failed test (d) whether the person refused to take the test (e) whether the person drove or attempted to drive a motor vehicle while having an alcohol concentration of .08 or more at the time of testing (e) whether the person drove or attempted to drive a motor vehicle while having an alcohol concentration of 0.15 or more at the time of testing or (f) if the hearing involves disqualification of a commercial driver’s license, whether the person was operating a commercial motor vehicle or held a commercial driver’s license.

If the administrative law judge (ALJ) believes the driver was properly pulled over, warned and failed or refused to take the test, the judge will affirm the suspension of the driver’s license. (www.peoples-law.info/node/1093). If the ALJ believes the evidence does not support suspending the driver’s license, the license will be reinstated.

The proposed suspension for a BAC reading of 0.08 but less than 0.15 is 45 days for a first offender an 90 days for subsequent offenders. A test reading of 0.15 or higher is 90 days for a first offender an 180 days for a subsequent offender. Refusing to take the blood or breath alcohol test could result in a license suspension of 120 days for a first offense and one year for a subsequent offender. An administrative law judge (ALJ) who presides at MVA hearings does not have the discretion to modify the length of the driver’s suspension nor grant a restricted license except for requiring the use of an ignition interlock device. An ignition interlock device connects a motor vehicle ignition system to a breath analyzer. It measures a driver’s blood alcohol level and prevents a motor vehicle from starting if the driver’s BAC is higher than the allowable setting on the device.


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