Constitutional Issues in Montgomery County DUIs

DUI stops and charges are some of the most common charges that appear in Montgomery County. However, while it is always smart to comply with law enforcement officials when they pull individuals over, there are times when individuals’ constitutional rights might be violated during the process. Below, a Montgomery County DUI lawyer discusses some possible constitutional issues and how a defense attorney can help. For more information, call a Montgomery County DUI attorney today.

The Fourth Amendment

The most common and most important constitutional issue in all DUI cases is the Fourth Amendment. The Fourth Amendment says that individuals have the right to be free from unlawful searches and seizures, which can be searches either without a warrant or where there are no circumstances that allow an officer to effectuate a warrant-less search. Any time an officer stops a vehicle, the Fourth Amendment is implicated. Any time the officer searches a vehicle, the Fourth Amendment is implicated. The Fourth Amendment is the most common constitutional issue in DUI cases.

Fourth Amendment Protection in DUI Arrests

The Fourth Amendment says that individuals should remain free from unreasonable searches. What that means is that unless an officer has a warrant they need to have a reasonable basis—in legal terms, probable cause—to initiate the search. There are a few minor exceptions to that general rule.

In order for an officer to get a warrant, they need to tell a judge that there is probable cause—meaning that the crime has taken place or is about to take place. That is very rare in DUI stops.

Frequently, we will see searches in DUI stops when officers believe that they do have probable cause. For example, they see drug residue or they smell drugs, so they may  search in that case. The other time that you will see searches in DUI cases is a search incident to an arrest. Until an officer initiates an arrest, they don’t have any right to search the vehicle unless there is a probable cause. Once an officer has arrested an individual and made a lawful arrest of the individual, at that point they can search the vehicle incident to the arrest for the officer’s safety.

Unreasonable Search

An unreasonable search is a search that doesn’t meet the requirements—where an officer doesn’t have a probable cause, where there is no warrant, or where it doesn’t fall under any of the exceptions that we just talked about.

Warrantless Search

A warrantless search can be an unreasonable search or it can be a search where the officer does have a probable cause to search and they can do the search without a warrant. A search incident to an arrest would be a warrantless search, a probable cause search would be a warrantless search, or a consent search would be a warrantless search. Consent search is a search where the individual has given consent to the officer to search their vehicle.

Other Constitutional Issues in Montgomery County DUIs

There is always your Fifth Amendment right to avoid self incrimination, which basically means that the state can’t force a defendant to testify and the defendant has the right not to answer questions on Fifth Amendment grounds. There are very, very, very rarely Fifth Amendment issues in DUI cases.

How Montgomery County Treats Constitutional Issues in DUI Cases

Montgomery treats the constitutional issues exactly the same as every other county in Maryland and in the United States. If you have a legitimate constitutional issue, it is a bar to the admission of certain kinds of evidence. If the evidence is gathered based on an unlawful search or an unlawful seizure, that evidence must be suppressed.

This legal doctrine is called “Fruit of the Poisonous Tree,” basically means that if the search is improper, then any of the evidence gathered by the search cannot be admitted against an individual in the court. What that means from a practical perspective in a DUI case is that if an attorney can show that the stop of the individual’s vehicle was unlawful, then all of the evidence gathered from that stop was unlawful—whether it be the officer’s observations of the driver, any kind of breath tests, everything is inadmissible. If an attorney can show that the arrest of an individual was done without probable cause, then any evidence gathered from that arrest will be inadmissible and usually that would be the breath test in a DUI case.

There is no supreme court in Montgomery County. In Maryland, there are two tiers of courts in a county. There’s a district court and you have a circuit court. After that the cases are heard by the Court of Appeals and those are going to be state-wide courts. Their interpretation of constitution trumps any kind of district or circuit court interpretations. If it is a federal question, then the U.S. Supreme Court’s interpretation comes in as well as the relevant federal circuit court.