Ashttp://www.mdattorney.com/lawyer-attorney-1301140.html for the last 15 years I have seen just about every factual scenario possible when it comes to people charged with Driving Under the Influence of Alcohol. I have blogged many times about the fact that it has become increasingly difficult over the last 15 years to secure a “not guilty” finding in a DUI case. The laws have become much stricter with the introduction of the “Per Se” violation and the reduction of the legal limit for DUI for .10 to .08. So in an increasing number of cases, experienced attorneys need to recognize quickly whether or not a case is defensible or whether to focus on mitigation instead.
Most not guilty results in DUI cases these days come by attacking the stop and suppressing the evidence. Even that has become more difficult over the years as groups such as MADD have begun monitoring court rooms and applying other grass roots pressure to persuade judges to get “tougher” on DUI’s. I had a case today in Howard County that was both a rare first factual scenario for me and also a reflection of the increasing intolerance for drinking and driving in Maryland courts. Here are the facts:
My client is a 42 year old married man with two children. He has a good job and has never been in any kind of trouble in his life. One evening in March he went to a house party where he consumed 3 mixed drinks over a period of a couple hours. He then drank water for about an hour before driving home with his wife. Both he and his wife believed him to be “okay” to drive.
He was driving the speed limit, not weaving and obeying all traffic laws as he proceeded down Route 29. As he came upon his exit he saw that two police vehicles were on the side of the road along with a civilian vehicle just a few hundred yards prior to his exit. The police vehicles had their emergency lights illuminated. My client was in the right hand lane as he was about to exit. He slowed down and safely passed the vehicles and took his exit. One of the two police vehicles followed him and pulled him over.
Until January of this year, this stop would have been an illegal one as my client would have violated no provision of the traffic code. Unfortunately for him, in January a new law was passed requiring vehicles who are passing police vehicles on the shoulder to move over to the next lane if it is not occupied by another car and they can otherwise safely do so. The reasons for this are obvious but few people know about this new law. My client advised me that he believed that on some level his was aware of the new law but chose not to move over because his exit was so close to the scene.
Once pulled over, he was polite and cooperative with the investigation. His performance on the field sobriety tests was not terrible but certainly constituted probable cause to arrest. He agreed tot the breath test and blew a .10 making him in violation of the “Per Se” section which says that anyone who drives with a BAC of .08 is “Per Se” under the influence of alcohol. This was certainly not the worst case in the world. Indeed not too many years ago, a man like this might have been told to “be careful” and let drive home. But not in the current statistic driven law enforcement era that we live in now where one DUI arrest is just as good as the next. On the other hand, there was obviously no real defense to this charge given the legitimate stop and the .10 Per Se result, so we quickly focused on mitigation.
We came to court with a great letter from his employer, a copy of his spotless driving record and a letter certifying that he had already completed an alcohol education program. That letter detailed the fact that he had been tested and found to not be a problem drinker. We then got a little lucky and drew an excellent judge and a very fair prosecutor. The result was that he not only received probation before judgment and therefore received no points on his license, but we were able to convince the court to make the probation unsupervised so he doesn’t have to report to an agent or perform any specific conditions. He paid a $100 fine and walked out of the courthouse. Given the nature of the case, this was as successful a result as could have been hoped for.
Unfortunately, some lawyers are either incapable of properly evaluating a DUI case or just choose to put on a “dog and pony show” for their clients rather than doing what is in their best interest. The rationale is that at least the client “goes down swinging” or see their lawyer really fight for them. All too often I have seen attorneys go to trial on cases where they had no chance of prevailing and their client’s are the ones that pay the price.
Ultimately, what matters is the result, not the process. A responsible attorney should pursue whatever course of action is likely to achieve the best result for their client. These seems pretty obvious but people would be amazed how often this simple concept is disregarded either due to incompetence or the desire of an attorney to be seen as a “fighter”.