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Do the Police Need to “Catch You in the Act” of Drunk Driving?

For many Maryland residents, a drunk driving charge is their first–and hopefully only–experience in dealing with the criminal justice system. A first-offense DUI in Maryland carries a maximum possible sentence of one year in jail and/or a $10,000 fine. Even if the court decides not to order any jail time, however, the DUI conviction will still be a part of your criminal record and can carry a number of collateral consequences for your life moving forward.

Anne Arundel Man Received Suspended Sentence, Probation, After Crashing His Car Into Parked Vehicle

The legal definition of DUI in Maryland states that “a person may not drive or attempt to drive any vehicle while under the influence of alcohol.” Whether or not a defendant is driving, or attempting to drive, is a question of fact to be decided at trial. But does the state need to actually provide firsthand evidence, such as eyewitness testimony or video, that the defendant was driving?

In short, no. A recent decision from the Maryland Court of Special Appeals, Candelario v. State, provides a helpful illustration of how the law works in this area. In this case, police in Anne Arundel responded to a report of a car accident. When the police arrived at the scene, they found a man–the defendant–sitting in the driver’s seat of a Cadillac. The vehicle was in the middle of a road near the defendant’s house. The police believed that the Cadillac had struck and damaged another vehicle parked nearby.

One of the police officers later testified that the defendant’s speech “was slow and slurred” and that he “had bloodshot glassy eyes” and smelled of alcohol, all of which suggested intoxication. More to the point, the defendant admitted to the officer that he was drunk.

Prosecutors charged the defendant with DUI and several other offenses. The defendant elected to have the judge try the case without a jury. The judge found the defendant guilty, citing the officer’s testimony, in particular the defendant’s admission that he was drunk. The court sentenced the defendant to 60 days in jail but suspended them in favor of 18 months probation.

On appeal, the defendant argued there was insufficient evidence to prove that he was “driving” the Cadillac when he was arrested. Essentially, the defendant’s position was that nobody actually saw him operate or be otherwise “in physical control of” the vehicle.

The Court of Special Appeals rejected this argument and affirmed the defendant’s conviction. The appellate court said the trier of fact–in this case, the trial judge–was allowed to infer the defendant was in control of the vehicle since he was found sitting in the driver’s seat of the crashed Cadillac. In other words, it was reasonable to assume that a person displaying multiple visible signs of intoxication seated at the wheel of a car that had just caused an accident had been the likely driver of said vehicle.

Contact Waldorf DUI Lawyer Robert Castro Today

This article has been provided by the Law Office of Robert Castro. For more information or questions contact our office to speak to an experienced lawyer at (301) 705-5137.