Maryland Supreme Court Alcohol Breath Test Opinion

The Maryland Court of Appeals made us all a bit safer by its ruling in MVA v. Dove. I like safer. Whether there was justice in this individual case, I have no idea.

Facts of Dove

In Dove, the defendant rear-ends a car while driving his motorcycle on Route 4 in Calvert County. When the Calvert County Sheriff’s Office arrived at the scene, they found the Defendant being treated by the EMT. The officer noticed red, watery eyes and a strong odor of alcohol coming from him. He used the “I had one beer” defense and said he was afraid of needles so he couldn’t take a blood test to determine his BAC.

At the hospital, police explained Dove’s rights and asked him to take a blood test to check his alcohol level. Dove refused, saying he didn’t like needles, and offered to take a breath test instead. The officer didn’t agree to this and asked Dove to sign a form acknowledging the consequences of refusing the test. After the officer left, hospital staff gave Dove a preliminary breath test, which showed a 0.00 alcohol level.

Dove requested a hearing regarding the 120-day license suspension for refusing the alcohol test. The ALJ found that police had reasonable grounds to believe Dove was driving under the influence and that Dove refused the blood test. The ALJ decided that a blood test was required in this situation and suspended Dove’s license for 120 days.

Circuit Court Reverses Administrative Law Judge

The Circuit Court later reversed the ALJ’s decision, stating that it was improper to request a blood test when the suspect preferred a breath test due to a fear of needles. The court also questioned whether Dove’s injuries required hospitalization and whether he knowingly and voluntarily refused the alcohol concentration test. The court did not accept evidence of the preliminary breath test administered by the hospital staff.

Issues on Appeal

The Maryland appellate court granted the State’s petition for certiorari to determine 1) whether an officer may rely on medical personnel’s judgment for a driver’s removal to a hospital when evaluating the need for a blood test, and 2) whether a driver’s preference for a different method of alcohol concentration testing, or their consent to an alternative method for medical treatment, constitutes a refusal of the required test.

The Arguments

MVA’s Position

The MVA argued that Maryland drivers do not have the right to choose the method of alcohol concentration testing. The MVA contended that the test must be conducted in the manner prescribed by § 10-305 of the Courts and Judicial Proceedings Article. In this case, police arrived after medical staff determined that Dove needed to be taken to a hospital for treatment. So the MVA argues that when the police officer detected signs of alcohol, he correctly requested a blood test under § 10-305(a)(1)(ii) of the Courts and Judicial Proceedings Article.

The MVA further asserted that the Circuit Court mistakenly concluded that § 10-305(a) of the Courts and Judicial Proceedings Article did not apply retroactively, infringing on the ALJ’s role in determining whether the case’s facts met the statute’s requirements. Additionally, the MVA claimed that the ALJ rightfully disregarded the Preliminary Breath Test (PBT) performed by hospital personnel since the test was conducted for medical treatment purposes and does not constitute a withdrawal of refusal under § 16-205.1(g) of the Transportation Article.

The MVA pushed the idea that the PBT performed by the hospital did not fulfill the requirements outlined in §§ 10-302 through 10-309 of the Courts and Judicial Proceedings Article because the sampling equipment was not approved by the state toxicologist, and the test was conducted outside of the required two-hour time limit. So the MVA believed that Dove refused the alcohol concentration test mandated by § 16-205.1(a)(2) of the Transportation Article and § 10-305(a)(1)(ii) of the Courts and Judicial Proceedings Article, and substantial evidence in the record supported the sanction imposed by the ALJ.

Dove’s Position

Dove countered by arguing that he did not refuse an alcohol concentration test since he informed police that he was willing to consent to a breath test. Dove believes that his circumstances did not necessitate a blood test under § 10-305(a) of the Courts and Judicial Proceedings Article because his injuries did not “require” transport to the hospital.

Dove’s view was that “required” medical treatment should be defined as injuries that “mandate removal to a hospital” due to the need for immediate urgent medical care. According to Dove, medical personnel should have provided him with a Refusal of Care form, released him to law enforcement, and allowed police to take him to the police station for a breath test. Dove also maintains that his alleged fear of needles justified his refusal.

Besides, Dove argued, even if a blood test was necessary, he did not knowingly and voluntarily refuse the blood test because he was under duress and believed he would not be released from the backboard until he signed the DR-15 form. Lastly, Dove argued that even if he refused the alcohol concentration test, the PBT administered by Calvert Memorial Hospital negated his refusal, despite the fact that “the Calvert Memorial Hospital breathalyzer test for alcohol concentration was probably not performed by a qualified person nor on approved equipment.” Furthermore, Dove asserts that the PBT result, displaying a reading of 0.00, should have been admitted.

Court’s Decision on Appeal

The court did not buy Dove’s argument that his refusal to take the alcohol concentration test was involuntary due to feeling forced to sign the DR-15 form.  The court clarified that a refusal is complete once communicated to the officer, regardless of whether the driver signed the DR-15 form. In this instance, Dove’s refusal was finalized when he informed police Additionally, even though Dove was on a backboard, he testified that it did not affect his decision to refuse the blood test.

Dove mentioned his willingness to take other tests, such as a horizontal nystagmus test or a breath test, but he never agreed to a blood test. The court determined that even without the signed DR-15 form, Dove’s testimony offers ample evidence for a knowing and voluntary refusal to take a blood test to measure alcohol concentration.

Furthermore, the court highlighted that police did not restrain Dove or strap him to the backboard, as it was done by medical professionals. The court found that Dove’s fear of needles does not excuse his refusal of the alcohol concentration test. So the court ruled that the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) was provided with sufficient evidence to support the court’s ruling on the matter.

My Thoughts

Maryland appellate courts have consistently held that drivers who refuse to take an alcohol concentration test face administrative penalties. The courts emphasize that the purpose of these penalties is not to punish driving under the influence directly, but rather to provide an incentive for drivers detained under suspicion of drunk driving to take, rather than refuse, a test for alcohol concentration. The courts have also addressed various arguments surrounding test refusals, such as the relevance of alternative tests, the effect of medical conditions, and the voluntariness of refusals. Ultimately, the courts have upheld the strict application of penalties for refusing alcohol concentration tests to encourage compliance and protect public safety and we should all support that.

I think you should have to take a blood test and your license should be suspended if you don’t. I think this is a policy that will save lives in the long run. Whether ultimate justice was served in this case is a more difficult question: the Defendant’s breath test showed a 0.00. Read the full opinion for all the details on this case. It is an interesting read.

Three More Maryland Appellate BAC Test Opinions

  1. Motor Vehicle Admin. v. Shepard, 399 Md. 241, 923 A.2d 100 (2007): The Maryland Supreme Court found that a police officer has the authority to request a BAC test based on reasonable suspicion, which is a lower standard than probable cause. It found that the officer had reasonable grounds to suspect that the driver was drunk based on the accident, the smell of alcohol, and Shepard’s behavior at the scene. The court upheld the administrative suspension of Shepard’s driver’s license for refusing to submit to a BAC test. The purpose of the statute, the court tells us in this opinion, is to encourage drivers to take alcohol concentration tests in order to reduce the incidence of drunk driving and protect public safety.  Some states require an arrest before an officer may ask a driver to take a chemical test. We don’t.
  2. Motor Vehicle Admin. v. Vermeersch, 331 Md. 181, 626 A.2d 972 (1993): The Maryland Supreme Court held that a driver may not refuse the alcohol concentration test requested by the officer and then obtain an independent test that fails to meet the requirements of the relevant statutes, arguing that their refusal is vitiated by “substantial compliance.” The court emphasized the purpose of the sanction for refusal is to provide an incentive for drivers to take the test rather than refuse it.
  3. Motor Vehicle Admin. v. Forman, 332 Md. 201, 630 A.2d 753 (1993): Maryland Supreme Court confimed that the administrative penalties imposed for refusal to submit to an alcohol concentration test are strict penalties designed to encourage drivers to take, rather than refuse, such tests. In this case, the driver was arrested for driving drunk.  He refused to take a breath test at the police station, but later agreed to take a blood test. He argued that his subsequent consent to the blood test should negate his earlier refusal of the breath test.  The Supreme Court upheld the administrative penalties imposed on Forman for his refusal to submit to the breath test. The court found that the purpose of the administrative penalties was to encourage drivers to take, rather than refuse, alcohol concentration tests. The court further clarified that a driver’s subsequent consent to a different test (in this case, a blood test) did not negate their earlier refusal of the breath test.