TOWSON, MD (Thursday, September 26, 2019) –– Starting October 1, drunk and drugged drivers and watercraft operators in Maryland will face harsher punishment, tougher penalties, substantial fines, and longer sentences behind bars for killing another person while driving a vehicle or operating a boat under the influence of drugs or alcohol. The tougher law metes out “serious consequences for a serious crime,” advocates say. It increases the maximum imprisonment from three to five years for drivers convicted of vehicular homicide while impaired by drugs. The law doubles the length of jail time, from five to ten years, for repeat drunk and drugged driving offenders, with prior convictions, if they are subsequently convicted of “vehicular homicide,” and also for culprits convicted of causing a highway death, serious injury, and or a fatal crash, resulting from driving while impaired by alcohol, opioids, marijuana, or other drugs.
To crack down on impaired drivers who have the gall to carry minors in the vehicle, the tougher law (House Bill 707), which goes into effect Tuesday, October 1, 2019, also imposes even steeper “aggravating factor” charges tantamount to “child endangerment drunk driving penalties.” If the defendant is found guilty of the charge by a judge or a jury in Maryland, then the accused will now face longer imprisonment or harsher fines, even if the passenger in question looks, acts and moves like an adult, but is, in reality, just under 18 years of age. As a rule of thumb, the newly revised law mandates more stringent punishments and penalties across the board, including heavier fines and heftier time incarcerated, for anyone convicted of causing a crash on roadways or waterways in Maryland while driving or boating under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
The new law, “the Repeat Drunk Driving Offenders Act,” lays it down. The revised law also increases the severity of the penalties for impaired drivers convicted of causing death or a life-threatening injury on their second and/or subsequent offense. Under Maryland statute (Maryland Code, Criminal Law § 2-209), the offense is also classified under the rubric of “homicide by motor vehicle or vessel (including watercraft) while impaired by drugs,” according to the Maryland Department of Legislative Services, even though the defendant did not cause the death intentionally or knowingly while driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
“Come next Tuesday, the law will throw the book at drunk and drugged drivers and boaters,” said Ragina C. Ali, AAA Mid-Atlantic’s Manager of Public & Government Affairs. “In essence, the revised code, which AAA Mid-Atlantic supported, imposes the maximum terms of imprisonment for the crimes of manslaughter by vehicle or vessel; and for homicide by vehicle or vessel while under the influence of alcohol, or under the influence of alcohol per se. In Maryland, ‘defendants who have a blood alcohol level of 0.08 or higher are presumed to be driving under the influence.’ Even a first-time offense will have stricter consequences in terms of fines and legal fees. The “Repeat Drunk Driving Offenders Law’ also carries stricter penalties for homicide by vehicle or vessel while impaired by alcohol or drugs, resulting in extended jail time for offenders,” Ali said.
“Every day, almost 30 people in the United States die in drunk-driving crashes,” according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). “That’s one person every 48 minutes in 2017.” Most states, including Maryland, “have laws specifying penalties for drunk drivers who kill another person,” explains Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). Previously, “zero to five years was the approximate jail or prison sentences possible in Maryland in traffic crash deaths caused by a drunk or drugged driver.”
Now the tougher “Repeat Drunk Driving Offenders” law imposes a stronger “three strikes” penalty for repeat offenders convicted of driving under the influence (DUI) or driving while intoxicated (DWI). First of all, the code also increases “maximum penalties to 10 years, and/or a $10,000 fine, for drivers convicted of a drunk or drugged driving offense on three or more prior occasions.” Research shows that “a person with a prior DUI has 4.1 times the risk of being involved in a fatal automobile crash.” Maryland joins the growing list of states “continuing to crack down” on DUI offenders with prior convictions. Secondly, the penalty also increases to five years in prison for drugged drivers sentenced for a first conviction of “homicide by motor vehicle or vessel (including any watercraft).”
Thirdly, the statute also doubles the maximum length of imprisonment for drivers convicted of transporting a minor under the age of 18 while impaired by alcohol, by drugs or by a combination of drugs and alcohol. The sentence, which is now more stringent, is increased to one year in jail for the first offense and to two years for a second offense, and the accused can be charged with “aggravating factors” (Annotated Code of Maryland § 27-101). Maryland, and at least 46 other states, have laws imposing additional charges or extra penalties to “drunk drivers who drive drunk with a child passenger in a vehicle,” according to MADD. “Tough enforcement of drunk-driving laws has been a major factor in reducing drunk-driving deaths since the 1980s,” notes NHTSA.
In Maryland during 2017, there were 188 fatalities due to crashes involving a drunk or drugged driver, and over 3,200 persons were injured. In some years “more people were arrested in the U.S. for driving under the influence (DUI) or driving while intoxicated (DWI) than any other reported criminal offense,” according to NHTSA. It is illegal to drive a vehicle, or pilot a watercraft, in Maryland with a Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) of 0.08% per se, or higher, and the same metric for alcohol intoxication applies to vehicle operators in every other state and in the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. “Approximately one-third of all traffic crash fatalities in the United States involve drunk drivers (with BACs of .08 g/dL or higher),” NHTSA explains.
In the state of Maryland, a DUI refers to “driving under the influence of alcohol and applied when the driver’s blood alcohol concentration is 0.08 or higher,” explains the Maryland Highway Safety Office. However, in Maryland, the term “DWI” means driving while impaired by alcohol, and offense which applies if the blood alcohol concentration is between is 0.04- 0.08 percent.” In essence, “while a DWI is a lesser offense, it is still a very serious charge. The penalties are even steeper if you cause a crash or are transporting a minor,” cautions the Maryland Highway Safety Office.
The tougher new law (HB 707) was championed by Governor Lawrence J. Hogan, Jr., and co-sponsored by Delegate Charlotte Crutchfield, Delegate Kathleen Dumais, both of Montgomery County, and other legislators. “The 2019 session was the third year in a row in which Governor Hogan introduced the Repeat Drunk Driving Offenders Act,” notes the Governor’s Office. The revised law was also championed by the Washington Regional Alcohol Program (WRAP), AAA Mid-Atlantic and other keen stakeholders. Over the years, AAA Mid-Atlantic has advocated for and testified in support of stronger vehicle manslaughter legislation appertaining to drugged and drunk driving charges.
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