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Maryland court considers DWI drivers' rights to contact attorneys

Maryland's Court of Appeals is poised to make a major decision about drunk-driving defendants' rights. A pending decision will determine whether drivers can call their attorneys before submitting to a blood alcohol test. This ruling could change the way DUI defense is conducted in the state.

The case concerns a 28-year-old woman who was stopped in May 2012 on suspicion of drunk driving. She asked to contact her friend, who is a lawyer. Officers refused that request. She took the BAC test. The woman's BAC measured at 0.16 percent, which is twice the legal limit.

Some experts say that accommodating such a request from a defendant could take too much time. In some cases, blood alcohol test equipment must be obtained from another jurisdiction, which delays the process from the start. Further, the law requires that the tests be performed within a certain time period after arrest. Legal advocates say that defendants have the right to contact an attorney for help.

It is possible that contacting an attorney would not compromise testing protocol. Maryland attorneys who are immediately available would likely provide adequate advice in a relatively short time frame, according to some arguments. Officials say they worry that more people will refuse breath tests because they want to talk to a lawyer. Driver's licenses are automatically suspended for those who refuse the BAC level test. Those with BACs higher than 0.08 percent also have their licenses suspended.

This is an important case for Maryland drivers' rights. An arrest for drunk driving does not mean that the defendant will necessarily be convicted. Qualified attorneys can provide advice for those facing DUI charges. The question, now, is when that can occur.

Source: The Daily Times, " Delmarva DWI case heard by high court" Vanessa Junkin, Jan. 16, 2014

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