Defendants in DUI cases who have commercial driver’s license pose a unique set of challenges and considerations for Maryland DUI Attorneys. I have blogged often about the importance of selecting an attorney who specializes in DUI/DWI defense. Unfortunately, all too often we see attorneys with little or no experience with these types of cases appearing in court on these cases. Because of their lack of experience, these attorneys often make mistakes that can have serious consequences for their clients.
Often these attorneys make simple mistakes that no experienced DUI/DWI attorney would ever make. I was representing a client in the District Court of Baltimore County a few days ago. While waiting for my case to be called I witnessed an attorney whom I had never seen representing a client in a DUI case at all much less one involving a defendant with a commercial driver’s license. I found out later that this attorney was a so called “general practitioner” who spends the majority of his time handling divorce and personal injury matters. In other words, he was NOT a DUI/DWI specialist. As the reader may have guessed, it did not go well for the defendant. Here are the facts:https://criminal.mdattorney.com/brian-g-thompson.html
The client did possess a commercial driver’s license but when he was pulled over for exceeding the speed limit by 15 miles per hour, he was operating his personal vehicle. When the Trooper approached the defendant he smelled of alcohol, had a flushed face and had slurred speech. The Trooper asked him to step out of the vehicle to perform field sobriety tests. In the opinion of the officer, his performance on the field sobriety tests indicated that he was impaired by alcohol. He was taken into custody and once back at the barracks, agreed to take the breathalyzer. The test result was .11 grams of alcohol per 210 milliliters of breath.
The case against the defendant was strong to be sure. The Trooper clearly had probable cause to pull him over as he was exceeding the speed limit by 15 miles per hour. Based on the smell of alcohol, his performance on the field sobriety tests and the Trooper’s other observations, it was also quite clear that the Trooper had probable cause to take him into custody and request that he take a breathalyzer. He blew a .11 which is obviously above the legal limit of .08.
The attorney pled his client guilty to the DUI “per se” charge under 21-902A2 of the Motor Vehicle Code. In mitigation, he explained his client’s circumstances to include that he was the father of 3 and the sole breadwinner for the family. He advised that he was a truck driver with a commercial driver’s license. The attorney then requested probation before judgment so that his client “would be able to maintain his CDL and his employment”. The judge granted the request, striking the guilty verdict and entered probation before judgment. Both the client and the attorney walked out of the courtroom with looks of relief and satisfaction. But did the attorney really do a good job for his client? The answer is no because, presumably due to his lack of experience, he didn’t understand the law.
What the inexperienced attorney apparently didn’t understand is that under Maryland Vehicle Law 16-803, even a probation before judgment on 21-902A violation, Driving Under the Influence of Alcohol, violation results in the mandatory revocation of a person’s commercial driver’s license for a year for the first offense and a permanent revocation for a second or subsequent offense. The fact that he received probation before judgment does not save his license as the attorney apparently believed. The appropriate way to handle a case like this would have been to first try to convince the prosecutor to allow the client to plead to the lesser offense of 21-902(B). Under this subsection the defendant would not be subject to having his commercial license revoked. I have been successful many times in convincing prosecutors to do just this. Prosecutors are for the most part reasonable people who don’t want people to lose their jobs and therefore their ability to provide for their families. Given that the defendant’s blood alcohol content was just barely over the .08 limit, it is probable that the prosecutor would have agreed given the defendant’s lack of record and his work and family circumstances.
If however, the State’s Attorney were unwilling to reduce the charge then the case must be taken to trial. The attorney should have moved to suppress the test result and argued to the court that the evidence is sufficient for the 21902B violation but not the A violation. These arguments are successfully made every day in the District Courts of this state. Because this was not done, this client is going to have a rude awakening when he is notified by the MVA that his commercial license and therefore his livelihood will be taken away for a year. Had this client taken the time to do a little research and hired a DUI/DWI specialist, it is highly unlikely that this would have occurred.