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What rights do Maryland drivers have in DWI stops?

Driving down the road and seeing the flashing red and blue lights in your rearview mirror can put any driver on edge. No one wants to be stopped by police and many people in Maryland end up getting very nervous or agitated if this happens. These reactions can be even more pronounced if a driver may have had a drink or two before getting behind the wheel.

However, having an alcoholic beverage before driving does not necessarily mean you are drunk. In Maryland and nationwide, the legal blood alcohol limit for driving is 0.08 percent. But because police are so focused on making drunk driving arrests, even drivers who are nowhere that limit can end up being suspected of driving while intoxicated. It is important for drivers in this situation to understand what they can expect and what rights they have if and when they are pulled over.

During a traffic stop, officers often look for any sign of impairment. These signs can include blood-shot eyes, nervousness or the smell of alcohol. Individually, these signs may have absolutely nothing to do with being drunk. But if an officer believes there are enough signs to suspect that a driver is drunk, he or she may request the driver to take a breath test.

Drivers have the right to refuse a breath test, but it is important to remember that the refusal to do so can result in a license suspension. But drivers who do not submit to a breath test can make it difficult for an officer to get objective information that can indicate intoxication. 

Police may then ask a driver to perform field sobriety tests. Again, a driver can refuse to submit to the testing. These tests are designed to judge impairment, but they are far from perfect. Field sobriety tests judge balance, coordination and the movement of eye muscles. How successfully a person completes these tests is completely subjective, and there are many people who would not even be able to pass the tests sober. 

Most importantly, drivers will want to remember that they have the right to speak with an attorney before making statements to police. Drivers should be cooperative and non-confrontational during a traffic stop, but they can request to speak with an attorney before they submit to testing or answer questions.

Source: ABC Action News, "DUI checkpoints -- know your rights about breathalyzers and field sobriety exercises," Ryan Beckler, July 25, 2013

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