As a Maryland DUI/DWI Attorney I am often retained for representation by offenders who have been charged and or convicted repeatedly in the past. An offender with a prior history of multiple DUI/DWI convictions presents an entirely different problem than that which faces the average first or even second offender. As I have discussed repeatedly here in this blog, even first and second offenses present the potential for incarceration these days, but if the case handled correctly this result can usually be avoided.
Offenders with two or more prior convictions, however, face almost certain incarceration if convicted in any jurisdiction in the state. As any experienced Maryland DUI/DWI lawyer will tell you, Harford County is among the strictest (if not the strictest) jurisdictions in Maryland for these types of cases which makes the risk even greater than if the offender were charged elsewhere.
I recently represented a woman on her fourth offense. Not only was she a repeat offender but the facts were bad. Several people had called in to 911 to report that a car being operated by a women on Route 40 in Harford County was driving in an extremely erratic and aggressive fashion. The callers claimed that she was swerving from lane to lane, tailgating and speeding. The police responded to the area and located the car just as it was pulling out of a gas station. The police immediately activated their emergency equipment and stopped the vehicle.
According to the police report and statement of charges, my client was extremely intoxicated. The arresting officer wrote that my client had an extremely strong smell of alcohol emitting from her person. He noted that she almost fell down as she exited the vehicle, appeared to have urinated in her pants and had extremely slurred speech. The officer noted that he attempted to have her perform field sobriety tests but stopped them very quickly for her safety and due to her inability to follow directions. She was arrested and taken back to the police station where she agreed to take the breathalyzer and blew a .26 BAC.
Obviously, there was no defense whatsoever to this case in terms of whether or not she was driving or whether she was under the influence. In other words there was no plausible factual defense to the case. The only possible defense in this case was a legal defense – that is, that the police had somehow violated her constitutional rights in the process of their investigation thereby entitling her to a suppression of the evidence which would result in her being found not guilty.
Fortunately, for her, the stop in this case was indeed an unconstitutional once controlled by the case of Florida v. J.L. which I have used to successfully defend several other clients in the past some of whose cases I have blogged about. In that case the police received a called for a young black male carrying a gun. The anonymous caller described the defendant’s physical appearance as well as his clothing and gave his precise location. The police responded to the location and located an individual matching the description provided by the anonymous caller. They approached him (he turned out to be a 16 year old boy) and patted him down for “officer safety”. The officer’s recovered a loaded semi-automatic handgun from his person and placed him under arrest. The boy was convicted and the case went up on appeal all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States. In a rare 9-0 opinion the Court ruled that the stop and frisk was invalid because it was based on an anonymous caller and that the police had been able to corroborate only innocent details such as the boy’s location and description. The Court opined that the potential for abuse was too great to allow the police to act upon anonymous tips.
I argued to the court in Harford County that Florida v. J.L. was the controlling case noting that the callers had not identified themselves and the police had not corroborated anything other than the location, type of caller and the race and gender of the operator before stopping her. The State tried to differentiate the case by noting that there were several anonymous callers in this case whereas there was only one in Florida J.L. The State’s Attorney also tried to argue that that community caretaker exception which essentially says that under some circumstances the police my conduct a stop or a search without probable cause if the purpose of their doing so is not so much to investigate a crime but to make sure no one is injured or otherwise in need of assistance. The court rejected both of these arguments and suppressed all evidence in the case. She was acquitted and avoided what would have been at the very least a year in prison and quite possibly 3 years as the State had filed repeat offender enhanced penalties against her. After the trial she told me that she was so thankful that she had been spared incarceration but was even more thankful that she had not hurt anyone. she promised me that she had learned her lesson and that she really had quit drinking and was committed to a life of sobriety. I told her that I I sincerely hope that she will continue with AA and remain sober as otherwise I believed that it would only be a matter of time before she did hurt herself or someone else.