Court: Smell of alcohol adequate for DWI license suspension

Defense attorneys in the state of Maryland say that a new ruling could jeopardize due process for motorists accused of drunk driving. The uproar has come after a decision handed down by the Maryland Court of Appeals that will allow officers to suspend a driver’s license if they smell alcohol. This change could have important implications for DWI cases throughout the state, as officers have now been granted a significant amount of power to punish drivers without analyzing their blood alcohol content and other important indicators of intoxication.

The ruling was handed down in connection with a 2011 traffic stop, in which an Eastern Shore man was stopped by a law enforcement officer for a traffic violation. When the officer spoke to the defendant, he noted that he smelled the odor of an alcoholic beverage. The driver refused to submit to a field sobriety test.

Now, the court has ruled that Maryland DWI defendants may have their licenses suspended for 120 days simply because an officer accuses them of smelling like alcohol. Defense attorneys in the state argue that this provision assumes that the driver is guilty and contradicts traditional legal protection. The smell of alcohol alone should not be considered adequate evidence to support a license suspension and associated penalties, according to those attorneys. Ultimately, it should be illegal to be intoxicated behind the wheel, not to simply smell like alcohol – after all, someone could have spilled their drink on a driver’s clothes, causing a noticeable odor.

Representatives from the state, however, argue that officers are trained to identify intoxicated victims, learning important physical and verbal attributes that indicate impairment.

Maryland drivers who are facing license suspension because they simply smelled of alcohol may benefit from the assistance of a qualified criminal attorney. These professionals can help defendants learn more about their legal rights under the new ruling.