DWI and DUI Charges in Maryland: Everything You Need to Know
Table of Contents
- What is Blood Alcohol Content (BAC)?
- What is the difference between a DWI and a DUI?
- How do police officers test drivers for alcohol impairment in the field?
- What happens if drivers are arrested and charged with a DWI or DUI?
- What happens after drivers are convicted of a DWI or DUI?
- What happens when an out-of-state driver is convicted in Maryland for a DWI or a DUI?
- What happens when a juvenile is arrested for alcohol-impaired driving?
- How many DWI and DUI fatalities occur each year?
According to the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration (MVA), police officers are authorized to stop and/or detain a person that is driving, or has made attempts to drive, while:
- Under the influence of alcohol;
- Under the influence of any drug;
- Under the influence of a controlled, dangerous substance;
- Intoxicated; or
- In violation of an alcohol restriction.
Unlike food, alcohol is absorbed directly into the bloodstream. How fast alcohol is absorbed into the bloodstream depends on the following:
- the concentration of alcohol in the drink: the greater the concentration, the faster the absorption;
- the type of drink: carbonated drinks tend to speed the absorption process; and
- whether the stomach is full or empty: food slows absorption
Alcohol is absorbed primarily in the stomach and the small intestine1 , wherein alcohol will travel through the cells toward the brain, impairing reflexes and neurological functioning. The alcohol is then processed by the liver, where the body’s metabolism determines the rate of elimination through breath, sweat, and urine.
Calculating BAC levels depends entirely upon the amount of alcohol consumed, the weight of the person, the gender of the person, and the elapsed time between drinks. Generally, one drink will equate to 12 ounces of beer, five ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of hard liquor2.
In Maryland, alcohol-impaired drivers are commonly charged with either Driving While Impaired (DWI) or Driving Under the Influence (DUI). The determination of charges depends upon the level of alcohol in a driver’s system at the time of testing. Drivers who are found to have a BAC of .07 percent can be charged with a DWI, while drivers who are found to have a BAC level of .08 or higher can be charged with a DUI. Generally, drivers who are charged are issued citations for DUI, DWI, and DUI per se as well.
A DUI per se charge means if a driver has a BAC of .08 or higher, that fact alone is evidence the driver was driving while impaired by alcohol.
Drivers that have a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) and are operating a commercial vehicle at the time of testing can be charged with a DWI if their BAC level is tested at .04 percent to .07 percent. As with drivers who do not hold a CDL, if the driver is operating his own vehicle at the time of testing, he can be charged with a DWI for testing with a BAC level of .07 percent or higher.
Drivers may also be charged with a DWI if they drive or attempt to drive while impaired by prescription drugs, illegal drugs, or a combination of alcohol and drugs.
Police officers use two methods for detecting alcohol impairment: The Standardized Field Sobriety Test (SFST) and the Preliminary Breath Test (PBT).
Standardized Field Sobriety Test
The SFST, developed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), is a series of three tests that are used to evaluate a driver in order to determine if the driver is impaired by alcohol, thereby finding probable cause to arrest the driver for suspected driving under the influence. The three SFST tests that police officers administer are:
- the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN);
- the Walk-and-Turn (WAT); and
- the One-Leg Stand (OLS)
Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus: HGN is the involuntary movement of the eyeball that occurs as the eyes gaze from side to side. Under normal circumstances, nystagmus, or involuntary jerking, occurs when the eyes are rotated at high peripheral angles. Alcohol impairs this movement, because, when intoxicated, nystagmus is exaggerated and may occur at lesser angles. A person who is impaired by alcohol may also have difficulty tracking an object smoothly.
The officer will have you follow an object in his hand, such as a pen, as he brings it in front of your face and into your peripheral vision. The officer looks for three indicators of impairment in each eye: if the eye cannot follow a moving object smoothly, if jerking is distinct when the eye is at maximum deviation, and if the angle of onset of jerking is within 45 degrees of center3.
This test is only admissible to prove the presence of alcohol and does not go towards one having a certain amount of alcohol in his or her system. Meaning, it can’t show if you have a Blood Alcohol Content of a certain level, just that you have alcohol in your system.
Walk-and-Turn and One-Leg Stand: these tests measure whether drivers are able to follow instructions while performing physical movements. Typically, people who are impaired find it difficult to divide their attention between both mental and physical tasks.
The Walk-and-Turn test requires drivers to walk, heel to toe, in a straight line for nine to 12 steps, counting aloud, turning around and walking back. The officer looks for eight indicators of impairment: if the suspect cannot keep balance while listening to the instructions, begins before the instructions are finished, stops while walking to regain balance, does not touch heel-to-toe, steps off the line, uses arms to balance, makes an improper turn, or takes an incorrect number of steps4.
The One-Leg Stand test requires drivers to stand with one foot approximately six inches off the ground with the driver’s arms at his or her side, while counting aloud until the officer tells the driver to stop. The driver can expect to hold this position for no more than 30 seconds. The officer looks for four indicators of impairment, including swaying while balancing, using arms to balance, hopping to maintain balance, and putting the foot down5.
Preliminary Breath Test
Preliminary Breath Tests (PBT) are used as probable cause to arrest drivers suspected of driving under the influence. They are not admissible to the court as evidence of impairment. Police officers administer the test using a mobile device, commonly known as a “Breathalyzer,” which calculates the driver’s Breath Alcohol Content (BrAC) level.
The results of the PBT directly influence the reasoning behind whether the police officer will place the driver under arrest and bring them to the station for further testing. As with the other field sobriety tests, Maryland drivers are able to refuse the PBT without legal repercussions.
There are two parts to a DUI/DWI charge in Maryland: administrative and judicial. The administrative portion of a DUI deals with the administrative sanctions on your license imposed by the MVA. The judicial side is the trial and sentencing.
If an officer formally charges a driver with DUI or DWI, the officer will confiscate the driver’s license and issue a temporary license. When issued a temporary license, the driver will have the option of requesting an MVA hearing to contest the suspension or complying with the suspension. The MVA has the right to impose sanctions on the driver’s driving privileges, whether or not there is a hearing.
A DWI or DUI charge also requires the driver to appear in court. The state prosecutor will bring evidence against the driver, such as an alcohol influence report, in front of a judge. The driver has a right to hire counsel, or request a public defender.
Under most circumstances, the maximum terms of incarceration that can be imposed for first-time offenders range from 60 days for DWI to one year for DUI. Those penalties increase with each subsequent conviction to a maximum penalty of three years. Repeat offenders are subject to enhanced penalties and mandatory minimum sentences. Fines range from not more than $1,000 for a first offense to a $3,000 maximum for a third or subsequent offense.
If you refuse to submit to a test for alcohol or drug concentration, under certain circumstances you are subject to a 60 day term of incarceration and a $500 fine.
Under certain circumstances, it is possible to receive a Probation Before Judgment (PBJ) disposition. This is not a conviction, but does typically require a period of supervised or unsupervised probation. If the person violates that probation, he or she is then subject to possible incarceration.
If you are placed on supervised probation, you are required to report to a supervisor or probation officer, and also pay the supervision fees. For both supervised and unsupervised, you may be required to comply with certain conditions. These conditions may include alcohol counseling, community service, attending Mothers Against Drunk Driving meetings, among other things. You may also be required to participate in the Ignition Interlock Program.
Out-of-state drivers convicted in Maryland of a DWI or DUI are subjected to the same range of penalties as in-state drivers, which can include: fines, community service, suspension or revocation of driving privileges in Maryland, probation with conditions, or even jail time. There is no immunity from breaking Maryland’s laws, regardless of whether or not the driver is a state resident.
Furthermore, some drivers may be subject to the same or additional penalties in their home state. Maryland, like most other states, is part of the interstate Driver License Agreement (DLA), which requires each state to honor other state driver’s licenses and report certain out-of-state traffic violation convictions to the driver’s home state. These violations include:
- vehicular assault, homicide, or manslaughter;
- a felony involving a motor vehicle;
- a conviction for operating a motor vehicle with or above a certain BAC or BrAC level; and
- refusing a required BAC or BrAC chemical test.
The legal BAC level for drivers under the age of 21 is .02. Adults under the age of 21 and juveniles, those under the age of 18, that test at or above this level violate the MVA’s under-age alcohol restriction, and are subject to either suspension or revocation of their licenses.
The state of Maryland does not prosecute juvenile offenders for committing a DWI or DUI offense in the adult criminal justice system. Typically, juveniles arrested for a DWI or DUI are issued a juvenile citation instead of a traffic citation. A juvenile that commits a DWI or DUI offense that results in the death or life-threatening injury to another individual, however, will be charged as an adult in the adult criminal justice system.
The case is then heard in a county juvenile court in front of a juvenile Master. If found delinquent for a first time offense, the juvenile can either be placed on probation, where he or she must follow certain restrictions, or the juvenile may have his or her license suspended for one year. If the juvenile has committed multiple offenses, he or she may be subjected to greater periods of license suspension, revocation, or other penalties.
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in 2010, there were 10,228 fatalities in crashes occurring in the United States where the driver’s BAC level was .08 or higher. This accounted for 31 percent of the total driving fatalities that year alone.
In Maryland, there were 493 driving fatalities in 2010, 59 percent of which included alcohol-impaired driving. Seven percent of the crashes involved a driver with a BAC level of .01 to .07, 31 percent involved a driver with a BAC level of .08 or higher, and 21 percent involved a driver with a BAC level of .15 or higher6.
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1United States. National Institutes of Health. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). Alcohol Alert. N.p.: n.p., n.d. No. 35; PH 371 January 1997.Alcohol Alert No. 35; PH 371 January 1997. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), Oct. 2000. Web. 9 July 2012. <http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/aa35.htm>.
2“Alcohol and Public Health: Frequently Asked Questions.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 10 May 2012. Web. 17 July 2012. <http://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/faqs.htm>.
3United States of America. U.S. Department of Transportation. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Development of a Standard Field Sobriety Test Appendix A. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Nov. 2001. Web. 21 June 2012. <http://www.nhtsa.gov/people/injury/alcohol/SFST/appendix_a.htm>.
4United States of America. U.S. Department of Transportation. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Development of a Standard Field Sobriety Test Appendix A. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Nov. 2001. Web. 21 June 2012. <http://www.nhtsa.gov/people/injury/alcohol/SFST/appendix_a.htm>.
5United States of America. U.S. Department of Transportation. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Development of a Standard Field Sobriety Test Appendix A. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Nov. 2001. Web. 21 June 2012. <http://www.nhtsa.gov/people/injury/alcohol/SFST/appendix_a.htm>.
6United States. Department of Transportation. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.DOT HS 811 606. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Apr. 2012. Web. 25 June 2012. <http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/Pubs/811606.pdf>.