COVID-19 Update: How We Are Serving and Protecting Our Clients

MD. To Review Drunken-Driving Laws

Defense Lawyer Leonard Stamm in Maryland's highest court in drunken driving, license suspension failing an alcohol breath test case.High Court Will Consider Motorist's Claim Of Double Jeopardy

By Paul W. Valentine
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 23, 1995; Page C01

Maryland's highest court agreed yesterday to hear a Montgomery County motorist's claim that he was unfairly punished twice for drunken driving, a double jeopardy defense that is being debated in a dozen states including Virginia.

The Maryland Court of Appeals will hear arguments in September that state laws violate the U.S. Constitution by punishing drunk drivers twice: once by an immediate suspension of a motorist's license for failing an alcohol breath test and then by criminal prosecution.

Lawyers in the Maryland attorney general's office counter that there is no double jeopardy because the license suspension is not a punishment but a public safety measure to get potentially dangerous drivers off the road.

More alarming, Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. (D) said in urging the high court to clarify the issue quickly, "is the implication it could {have} statewide" if the double jeopardy strategy is upheld. Several judges are holding up cases involving claims of double jeopardy, waiting for the high court's decision.

"It isn't going too far to suggest that every criminal prosecution following an administrative suspension of a driver's license is at risk of dismissal," Curran said.

Maryland trial courts typically process more than 29,000 drunken-driving cases a year.

Nationwide, prosecutors have expressed similar concerns, as criminal defense lawyers have invoked the double jeopardy strategy, often successfully, in at least 12 states.

Two traffic judges in Fairfax County recently threw out cases on double jeopardy grounds. Officials there are awaiting a Virginia Court of Appeals ruling on the issue.

In Colorado, singer John Denver had drunken-driving charges set aside in March. A judge ruled that trying the Aspen entertainer in criminal court would amount to double punishment because he already had gone through an administrative hearing to suspend his driver's license.

In the Maryland case, Ernest Jones Jr., 59, a telecommunications engineer from Gaithersburg, was stopped by police April 25 in a shopping center. He was charged with driving while intoxicated after submitting to a breath test that showed his blood alcohol level was 0.27, almost triple the state limit of 0.10 for drunken driving.

Jones's license was suspended for 30 days by the Motor Vehicle Administration, and he was convicted later of DWI in Montgomery County District Court. On appeal, Circuit Court Judge J. James McKenna overturned the conviction, ruling that Jones's right against double jeopardy had been violated.

The suspension "is a public safety issue, not a punishment," said Brenda Barnes, executive director of the Maryland chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, which has been monitoring the Jones case.

Curran and county prosecutors also contended that the double jeopardy tactic undermines drunken-driving laws and could result in intoxicated drivers receiving only 30-day administrative suspensions without fines, jail or probationary sentences in a criminal trial.

Alternatively, they said, abandoning administrative suspensions in favor of trials would mean losing the effectiveness of getting dangerous drivers off the road immediately.

"They should have thought of that before they proposed the law," said Leonard R. Stamm, Jones's attorney.

Stamm contended that suspension of a license is a "devastating punishment in and of itself," causing the loss of employment for many drunk drivers.

Articles appear as they were originally printed in The Washington Post and may not include subsequent corrections.