Advertisement

Metro-area prosecutor set to press for new DWI rules 12/5

December 05, 2000

Metro-area prosecutor set to press for new DWI rules 12/5



In Maryland, drinking drivers who avoid prosecution by refusing a breathalyzer test may soon find that's a loophole in the law that doesn't provide the escape hatch that it once did. A group led by Douglas Gansler, state's attorney for Montgomery County, will lobby the 2001 General Assembly to make the breath test mandatory, or at least allow juries to know that a defendant has refused it.

Gansler's proposals picked up momentum last week, when a defendant who rear-ended a car that had stopped for a bus was able to avoid his twelfth drunken-driving conviction by refusing the breath test. Lacking that evidence, the man was convicted on two minor charges and fined $380.

A recent Washington Post probe of the situation found a number of drivers who had been arrested more than a dozen times, including those involved in fatal accidents, were back on the roads after serving short sentences, or no jail time at all.

Advertisement

The only penalty now for refusing the breath test is a 120-day license suspension, a move prosecutors say is ineffective because many repeat offenders drive without licenses as a matter of course. Nor can prosecutors tell juries about the refusal to be tested.

State's Attorney Gansler argues that it makes no sense to compel a defendant to be finger-printed, but not be able to force them to take a breath test. But the concern is that forcing a test would violate the constitutional protection against self-incrimination.

At the very least, prosecutors should be able to inform juries that a defendant has refused a test and there should be some re-thinking of the 120-day rule, which is much less burdensome that the laws in Virginia and the District of Columbia, which provide for suspensions of up to one year for refusing the test.

Thanks to the efforts of groups like Mothers Against Drunk Drivers, the average number of drinking-related auto fatalities in the United States has dropped more than 5,000 a year since 1982. It is now time to look at how to reach those drivers so gripped by their addiction that it's not a question of whether they'll be in court on DWI charges again, but how soon.

The Herald-Mail Articles
|
|
|