Maryland laws that make driving under the influence (DUI) a crime look quite similar to those of other states. A driver can be arrested if the police see sufficient evidence of drug or alcohol impairment or if the driver has a blood alcohol concentration limit over the legal level. But the Maryland DUI law has some unique quirks a driver should know about, along with some pretty tough penalties.
Driving Under the Influence
Nobody intends to hurt other people when they have a few drinks and then get behind the wheel, yet people are injured and killed every day due to drunk driving. In Maryland, it is said that someone is killed by a drunk driver every 58 hours. Maryland, like other states, has reacted by enacting strict drunk driving laws and serious penalties for violating them. The laws apply to drugs as well, whether or not the driver has legal authority to use them. It also applies to illegal use of controlled substances.
Types of Maryland DUIs
Driving under the influence laws in Maryland make it a crime to drive while impaired by drugs or alcohol. The statute provides that "a person may not drive or attempt to drive any vehicle while so far impaired by any drug, any combination of drugs, or a combination of one or more drugs and alcohol that the person cannot drive a vehicle safely." This charge is sometimes called an impairment DUI.
Like other states, Maryland also has a "per se" DUI charge. The law makes it illegal for a person to drive with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08 percent or above. A person's BAC level is determined by chemical testing. This is usually a breath test, taken with the well-known breathalyzer, but Maryland also authorizes blood testing.
Finally, Maryland prohibits operating a vehicle while impaired by any "controlled dangerous substance" as defined in the statutes. This applies only to a driver who is not legally entitled to use the controlled dangerous substance under Maryland laws.
Proving a DUI Offense
In Maryland, many more DUI convictions are the result of per se DUI arrests than impairment arrests. That makes sense given the difference in proof required for each charge. Since all of the DUI violations are crimes, the prosecutor must establish each element of a DUI crime beyond a reasonable doubt.
To convict a driver of a per se DUI, a prosecutor need only present evidence that the driver was asked to take, and did take, a chemical test that showed a BAC level over the legal limit. Generally, the legal limit is 0.08 percent, while the legal limit for commercial drivers is 0.04 percent. It does not matter for a per se DUI conviction whether the driver was actually impaired or not, and no proof of impairment is required for conviction.
To charge a driver with an impairment DUI, the prosecutor must have evidence that the person operated a vehicle while their faculties were impaired to a substantial extent by alcohol, drugs or a controlled substance. These are not per se violations, so they must be established by evidence of actual impairment, which can include testimony by police officers about the person's erratic driving or their performance on the road sobriety testing.
Proving Drug Impairment
For drug charges, Maryland recognizes and employs the use of drug recognition experts. These are usually law enforcement officers with specialized training to detect the signs of impairment from drugs. When arresting officers suspect drug impairment, they can call in a drug recognition expert to examine the driver and, later, testify in court.
Implied Consent Laws in Maryland
Given how much easier it is to convict a person who fails a chemical test than one who doesn't take a test, it is reasonable to assume that imbibing drivers would prefer not to be tested. To prevent widespread refusal to take tests, the state of Maryland has passed an implied consent law, joining many of its fellow states.
An implied consent law is based on the premise that it is a privilege to drive on roads in the state, and that this privilege can be conditioned on consent to submit to testing if stopped for a DUI violation. This "bargain" is not one made explicitly between the state and drivers, but rather it is written into the law. The consent to take a chemical test is implied by the fact that a person drives on Maryland roads.
Administrative Penalties for DUI Offenses
Violation of the implied consent laws is not subject to criminal sanctions, but to administrative penalties. The primary sanction is loss of driver's license, so a driver who refuses to take a chemical test will have their driver's license suspended for 270 days. A second or subsequent refusal results in a suspended driver's license for two years.
Failing a breathalyzer test is also subject to administrative penalties under the implied consent laws. When a test shows that the person's BAC is above the legal limit, the administrative suspension period is 180 days. If the BAC is above 0.15 percent, the administrative suspension period is 180 days for a first offense, and a subsequent high BAC violation results in a suspension of 270 days.
These suspensions are completely independent of the criminal case. That means that if the driver goes to court for DUI or DWI (driving while impaired) and is not found guilty, the administrative sanctions still continue in full effect. It also means that criminal license suspensions or revocations are in addition to, not an alternative to, these administrative suspensions.
DWI Violation in Maryland
Although DWI is used as a synonym for DUI in many states, in Maryland they are separate offenses. A DWI in Maryland stands for driving while impaired by alcohol, drugs or controlled substances. The drivers charged with DWI offenses in Maryland are usually those who take the chemical test for alcohol and come in slightly under the legal limit. A driver who tests between 0.07 and 0.08 percent BAC, but shows signs of impairment can be arrested by the police on this offense.
A DWI violation is a much less serious offense than a DUI in Maryland. The penalty these drivers face for a first-time offense maxes out at 60 days in jail with a $500 fine. Subsequent offenses can bring a year in jail and another fine. The Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration assigns eight penalty points to a driver's record for a DWI conviction. This will lead to a six-month license suspension. Compared to the penalties for a DUI, these are truly less severe.
Penalties for Maryland DUIs
Those convicted of DUIs in Maryland face jail time, fines and license revocation. In addition, all of these drivers will be required to complete a state-approved alcohol education program before they are permitted to drive again.
They may also have to install ignition interlock devices (IIDs) in the cars they own and drive. These devices are modified breathalyzers that prevent a car from starting until the driver blows into the device to show that there is no alcohol in their system. The driver must pay for the IID installation, in addition to a monthly maintenance fee for each IID.
The penalties a criminal court will impose for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs depend on the person's driving record. A first DUI offense receives the least severe criminal sanctions, while a second-time offender receives greater penalties, and each subsequent offense carries even greater penalties. The general look-back period for offenses is five years. That means that a DUI counts as a prior offense for a driver only if it occurred within the five years before the current offense.
Penalties for Additional DUI Offenses
Someone charged with a DUI for the first time may get the lightest DUI penalties, but still go to jail. In Maryland, the maximum possible penalty is one year in jail and a traffic fine of up to $1,000. The driver will get 12 penalty points against their license, which translates into a six-month revocation of their license.
If the driver has one prior DUI on their record in the look-back period, both the fines and time in jail are doubled – the maximum jail time is two years and the maximum fine is $2,000, and their license will be revoked for a year. If the driver has two prior DUIs, the potential jail time for a third offense is three years, with a fine of $3,000. License revocation is for 18 months.
Enhanced DUI Penalties in Some Situations
In some circumstances, Maryland imposes even greater penalties for a DUI conviction. The most common situations that create enhanced penalties are:
- Driving under the influence with a child under the age of 18 in the car as a passenger.
- Driving with a BAC of 0.15 percent or higher.
- Causing bodily harm to another because of the DUI driving.
- Causing death to another person because of the DUI driving.
Any of these circumstances will increase the jail time as well as the criminal fines that will be part of a driver's sentence.
Underage Drunk Driving in Maryland
In Maryland, those under the age of 21 are permitted to drive, but they are not permitted to buy or drink alcohol, so the state has enacted "zero tolerance" legislation that prohibits these young drivers from getting behind the wheel after imbibing. It is designed to discourage minors from drinking.
Maryland’s zero tolerance law makes it illegal for a person under the age of 21 to drive with any alcohol in their system. The DUI statute sets out a per se BAC limit of 0.02 percent for these drivers. If a young driver is stopped by law enforcement and found to have a blood alcohol concentration of 0.02 percent or greater, they are in violation of Maryland’s zero tolerance law. The justification for requiring a much lower standard for juvenile prosecution than that for an adult is that an underage person is already committing a crime by drinking.
These drivers do not usually face jail time, but rather license suspension and mandated alcohol treatment. A first offender will lose driving privileges for six months and can be ordered to attend an approved alcohol treatment program. A subsequent violation results in a license suspension of one year or until the driver turns 21, whichever is longer.
Note that these sanctions are not the only possible punishment for someone under 21 who is found to be drinking and driving. If the driver has a blood alcohol concentration of 0.07 percent or higher, they can face the same DWI or DUI penalties as adults.
Teo Spengler earned a J.D. from U.C. Berkeley's Boalt Hall. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an M.A. and an M.F.A in creative writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Go Banking Rates, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.