Thomas G. WitkopLaw Offices

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The Drivers License I Save May Be Your Own



My client was looking at losing his license for 120 days or paying $1000 for a ignition interlock for one year.

The allegations were that the police officer came upon a single vehicle accident. My client allegedly ran into a tree. Client allegedly refused the breast test for alcohol and his permanent license was confiscated. He kindly asked for a hearing before an administrative law judge.

I prepared as best I could with the limited information that I had and appeared with him at the hearing. I thought that I had a strong case because the DR 15 A (temporary license issued to the driver) did not specify location of the offense and the policeman involved was a county officer and not a state trooper. County officers have jurisdiction generally limited to their county, state police have jurisdiction throughout Maryland) I was ready to argue that the motor vehicle administration failed to prove that it was a police officer because we do not know what what County this occurred in and this police officer may have been outside of his County and therefore acting as a private citizen.

My hopes were dashed when into evidence came an accident report as well as the drunk driving information report. Those of those had a street address and the County. I was surprised to see those pieces of evidence. I objected but really had no grounds off the top of my head. My objection was overruled. My first argument went down the tubes.

I was prepared and still had a second argument. The temporary license was not signed by the officer or my client. I argued that my client suffered prejudice because he lost his privilege to drive without the benefit of notice and a hearing. This judge argues that the only issues before him were the seven issues specifically listed in the Maryland transportation article 16 205.1. He felt that due process is not something which is available at these hearings. His belief was that the Court of Appeals was also limiting all arguments to the seven issues. My second argument failed.

My third argument was a winner. My client spoke maybe 10 words of English and did not understand it and could not read it. I argued that my client was not fully advised as to the sanctions for taking a test or refusing a breath test as required by statute and did not make a knowing decision which I believe Foreman versus MVA stands for. The judge agreed with this argument. The judge took no action against my client's license and further my client is entitled to a refund of the $125 hearing fee.

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Sometimes You Need to Push the Insurance Company



My client was driving down the road maintaining her lane. A truck passed her and cut into her lane causing a collision. Both vehicles stopped. The truck driver claimed that my client swerved into his lane. My client claimed that the truck driver swerved into her lane. Fortunately, there was an independent witness who supported my client's version. My client had an old car and the damage was sufficient to be a total loss. My client submitted the estimate of the vehicle to the truck's insurance company. They denied her request based on their driver' s story. My client submitted the witness statement to the insurance company. This witness was independent, did not know the trucker or my client and had no stake in the outcome of the matter. Still the insurance company denied her claim.

My client hired me and I filed a lawsuit in her District Court for the value of the car. My client did not suffer any personal injury. I served the trucking company. Shortly thereafter my client received the full amount of the value of her car. A smile and a stick gets you further than just a smile. At least that's how it is with insurance companies.
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When is a car not a car for drunk driving purposes? When it is a shelter.



The police officer saw my client parked along the side of the road in a legal parking space with the headlights on at 3 AM. The officer circled around the block and 5 min. later my client was in the same place. The officer got out of his patrol car and took pictures of my client who was in the driver seat slumped over the steering wheel. The headlights were on, the engine was running, it was late December and very cold outside. The officer woke up my client and she did poorly on the field sobriety tests and later took a breath test which indicated that she was somewhat drunk.

At trial the state was able to prove the above things. On cross-examination I was able to confirm that the car was legally parked and properly parked and had not moved the two times that the officer saw the car. Also, the car had not run into the car ahead of it. I called several witnesses which established that my client had gone to a birthday party at a restaurant. At the restaurant she had been drinking. Because of that drinking she had a designated driver take her car to the next spot. At the next spot she drank some more, did not feel well and told the group that she would wait for them in the car. It was cold outside and she turned the car on for heat. The group could not find her and although they made several calls to her she did not pick up because she was tired and had fallen asleep in the car.

At the end of the case I argued to the judge that under Maryland law our highest court has held that in some very narrow circumstances, a drunk person may use an automobile as shelter. We were able to demonstrate that she had not driven a car drunk, that she had no intention of driving the car and that indeed she was only using it for shelter. I believe what swayed the judge was one witnesses testimony that my client had already established a designated driver when she first left the restaurant. The judge acquitted her of all charges.

I want to stress that although the above is an accurate statement of the law in Maryland in my opinion, it is a very narrow exception. In other words, this is not a recommendation that you get drunk and get into your car. Take a taxi, take a bus, call a friend, stay away from your vehicle when you are under the influence.
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Client Guilty of Driving under the Influence of Drugs? Only if the State Can Prove It



The officer was told that my client was weaving all over the road and had struck a curb. The officer found my client and his front tire was flat and he was driving along on the rim. The officer stopped my client. He claimed that he smelled a strong odor of an alcoholic beverage and that my client had very poor coordination. He arrested my client for drunk driving.

At the police station my client took the breath test which registered 0.0 (no evidence of alcohol). At that point the officer concluded that my client must be under the influence of drugs and summoned the drug recognition expert and also took blood from my client to test for the presence of drugs. The drug recognition expert concluded that my client was indeed under the influence of drugs.

The burden is always on the state to not only produce the evidence necessary to convict, but also to produce evidence which must persuade the trier of fact beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty. On the first trial date the state failed to have their evidence all together. Ironically, the prosecutor told me that he had all of his witnesses and what did my client want to do. I consulted with my client. I told the prosecutor we were ready for trial. At that point the prosecutor told me that they did not have the results of the blood test and could not go forward. I thought that to be somewhat dishonest of the prosecutor and the case was called and postponed. I did ask that the judge not grant the prosecution any further in court continuances and the judge agreed.

After this trial date I requested that my client provide me with his medical records which demonstrated that he had significant back and neck injuries. With this evidence I believed I could argue to the trier of fact that it was not drugs that caused his impairment but significant injuries.

On the second court date the prosecution did not have the drug recognition expert. Again the prosecution asked for a postponement and the judge denied this based on the earlier judge's ruling (which I had requested). The prosecution realized that they had a problem with their case and we were able to work out this very serious case down to a negligent driving disposition. My client received one point and a minimal fine.
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Do Not Miss Your Motor Vehicle Administration Per Se Hearing

My client recently requested a motor vehicle administration hearing after he was stopped for alleged drunk driving and providing a breath sample which revealed too high an alcohol content.

He thought his hearing was on September 9. The hearing was actually on September 6. He missed his hearing.

I am working on trying to get him a new hearing but his license is suspended while we are waiting for this. The statute goes against you. Transportation Article 16-205.1 Provides As Follows:

(iv) In the absence of a compelling reason for failure to attend a hearing, failure of a person to attend a hearing is prima facie evidence of the person's inability to answer the sworn statement of the police officer or the test technician or analyst, and the Administration summarily shall:

1. Suspend the driver's license or privilege to drive; and

2. If the driver is detained in a commercial motor vehicle or holds a commercial driver's license, disqualify the person from operating a commercial motor vehicle.

Maryland also has regulations known as Comar and they provide as follows:

11.11.02.12

.12 Failure to Appear.

If a licensee who has been given notice of the hearing fails to appear for the hearing, the Administration may:

A. Suspend the applicable privilege pending the licensee's appearance at a hearing on a date set by the Administration; or

B. Upon good cause shown to the satisfaction of the Administration as to why the licensee could not appear at the originally scheduled hearing, terminate any suspension imposed under this regulation, and send notice to the licensee of the newly scheduled hearing date.

My argument is that if they cannot find good cause then they should still give him a hearing at provided for under section A. above. The jury is still out on whether they will.

Meanwhile, my client is definitely suspended and cannot drive because he missed a hearing.



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Acquittal of All Felony Charges in Robbery Case

my client was charged with robbery, robbery with a deadly weapon, use of a handgun in the commission of a felony, conspiracy to commit robbery, first-degree assault and second-degree assault. At the jury trial three witnesses testified that my client was present at the scene. Allegedly five people were attacking one victim. One of the defendants perhaps had a handgun. The handgun if there was one was never taken out of the defendant's waistband.

My client had to alibi witnesses putting them away from the scene of the crime.

At the conclusion of all the evidence we were able to successfully argue that there was insufficient evidence of robbery with a deadly weapon, first-degree assault (there were not sufficient injuries to the victim), and use of a handgun in the commission of a felony. The judge granted our motion for acquittal.

Thereafter the jury received the case on the remaining charges. My client was acquitted of everything except second-degree assault.

I did a lot of work on that case and the results were consistent with the work put in. I am not done working on the case. I still need to prepare for sentencing.


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Provisional drivers license and convictions



In Maryland new drivers receive provisional drivers licenses. Provisional drivers licenses are delicate and do not withstand traffic tickets very well. If you have a provisional license and receive a conviction or even a probation before judgment (usually not considered a conviction) the motor vehicle administration will take a dim view and start taking actions against your license. A second conviction can lead up to 30 days of suspension and a third and subsequent conviction can give you 180 days of walking. On top of that, each conviction postpones your ability to get your regular license by 18 months. Obviously for safety reasons you do not want to receive tickets but you do not want to receive tickets because it really affects your license in a negative manner.

My 18-year-old client was on his provisional license when he originally received a speeding ticket and received probation before judgment. After that he received a speeding ticket out of state which was transferred to his Maryland driving record. The motor vehicle administration took action and threatened to suspend his license. I advised my client to drive slower and not receive any future tickets. I further had him research the effect of speeding on accidents. Included in this essay I wanted him to reflect on what he would do to reduce his speeding. He wrote a rather excellent essay which I present below. We presented this essay to the judge at the motor vehicle administration and I believe it tipped the judge in favor of my client. Instead of receiving a suspension of his driving privilege the judge issued a reprimand. My client was allowed to continue driving but I believe he realizes he must slow down.

Speeding

Speeding is the #1 violation in fatal motor vehicle crashes. I am extremely fortunate to not have been a part of an accident while having my license. Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death among the ages five to thirty-four in the U.S. More than 2.3 Million adult drivers and passengers were treated in emergency departments as the result of being injured in motor vehicle crashes in 2009. Many teenagers seem to ignore the potential risks of speeding and unfortunately sometimes, as a result, become another number in these statistics. The dangers of speeding are both obvious and unrecognizable to drivers.

One of the most obvious dangers associated with speeding is the impact that it has on our ability to carefully and safely operate a motor vehicle. It is a fact that when we speed, we are less able to rely on our natural reaction time when an obstacle is perceived. Speeding significantly reduces this reaction time and prevents us from doing what is necessary to avoid a potentially dangerous situation. Though braking and swerving are actions that we naturally take when faced with an obstruction on the road, their effectiveness is severely compromised by traveling at a high rate of speed. This is primarily because a driver who is speeding does not have the time (or space) to determine whether such a course of action will really enable him to avoid the perceived danger or whether it will lead to an even more dangerous situation.
Acknowledging the dangers of speeding is important and helpful in preventing the violation, however, it is knowing the reasons why we speed that will truly stop us from continuing to put us, and others, in danger while on the road. One of the biggest reasons I have found myself pushing the pedal a little harder is when I am running late. I feel an extra urgency to pick up the pace and make up for wasted time. I know, based on feedback from my friends and others, that this factor is certainly common among young drivers, and even older ones as well. To fix this I found a simple solution. When I am running late I make certain I do not speed because of it. Realizing my habit of speeding has created another habit of understanding and compensating for my usual tendencies. Ultimately I have stopped excessive speeding and am more aware of my driving habits.
Another danger of speeding, or perhaps the greatest danger, is the fact that it is often not recognized as a danger. Few drivers, including confident and experienced drivers, would hold that engaging in distracting activities such as using a cell phone, texting, eating, etc. are conducive to safe driving. Even fewer drivers would argue that driving under the influence is prudent. On the other hand, drivers who occasionally or consistently drive above the speed limit are ready and willing to provide a list of reasons for why speeding does not qualify as an unsafe and potentially life-threatening hazard. Those who do recognize the dangers of speeding will often rationalize or justify speeding in a number of different ways. I would say, as would many others, that because everyone else speeds, it is easily permissible. However, just because everyone is doing it does not mean you should too. I have driven with the thought of “going with the flow of traffic” but have always wanted to be the leader in the “flow”. With this realization I have mentally changed my connotation of the phrase and permanently decided to be content and willing to stay in the correct “flow”.
Realizing the reasons one speeds is a simple solution to the inconvenient habit. If you truly follow through with self-analyzing natural tendencies and motives, it is easy to be successful and stop yourself from repeating the same mistake too many times.

I think this is an excellent essay. I will not give proper attribution to my client because he probably prefers to remain anonymous. I think I learned from it also.


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Sealing Criminal Records in the Superior Court

Several years ago the District of Columbia enacted "the criminal records sealing act" (DC code section 16-801) that expands the number of people eligible to seal their arrest and related records. Sealing a criminal record is not automatic. You must file a motion to seal records of the courts and a judicial officer will decide whether to grant your request to seal your criminal record.

If your case was no papered by the Office of United States Attorney for the District Of Columbia that means they have decided not to proceed with a criminal prosecution against you. If a case is "no papered" that does not preclude them from prosecuting the case later.

Even though your case has been no papered and you do not have a conviction you do have an arrest record. An arrest record is a record and a law enforcement database contains your name, the date of your arrest, the charges, and personal information such as your date of birth.

It is possible to seal your arrest record to prevent others from gaining access that part of your criminal record. If you have convictions or other arrests that you have not sealed, they will still appear on your criminal background.

If you are interested in sealing your Superior Court criminal record, please bring me a copy of your police and court records. You can obtain your criminal records in Washington DC from the DC Superior Court criminal information and finance office located at 500 Indiana Ave. NW., room 4001, Washington DC 20001. The telephone number is 202-879-1373 and their facsimile is 202-879-1371. There you can pick up criminal records, a bond refund, subpoenas, dispositions on cases. There is no charge to pick up your criminal record.

Next a written motion needs to be filed in the Superior Court within 120 days from the date the charges were dismissed. I can help you with this or you can pick up a sample motion and instructions on how to file a motion by visiting the Public Defender Service located at 633 Indiana Ave. NW. room 248A, Washington DC. You can call 202-628-1200.
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Amount in Controversy Must Exceed $15,000 in District Court for Jury Demand

Maryland recently increased the amount in controversy from $10,000 to $15,000 in the District Court. Specifically, if the plaintiff demands up to $15,000 as damages in their car accident case or personal injury case or bicycle accident case or motorcycle accident case the defendant cannot demand a jury trial. Only if the amount in controversy exceeds $15,000 can the defendant request a jury trial. This is a huge benefit to people who are injured but whose cases are not particularly large. Insurance companies usually like to get their cases in front of juries. Juries are historically defense oriented. Juries often side with defendants and even if they side with the plaintiff give low awards. By increasing the jurisdictional amount, a plaintiff can have a fairly quick trial in the District Court, save significant amounts of money for medical experts and avoid the hazard of a jury trial.
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Protective Order Hearings-Spend a Little Now Save A Lot Later

My client represented himself in a protective order hearing. The charges were very serious. His wife claimed in her petition for the protective order that my client sexually abused her teenage son. At the protective order the mother testified as to what the son had told her. The son never got on the stand to testify as to what had happened. The judge listened to the mother's hearsay testimony and used it as evidence to find that my client did indeed sexually abuse the teenage boy. Had any minimally competent attorney been there he or she would've objected to this hearsay testimony and it would have been excluded. But this evidence came into the record and the judge believed it and was appropriately disgusted at my client's behavior.

He was kicked out of the marital home and ordered to stay away and ordered to make some payments to the household.

Over one month later his wife asked the court to hold my client in contempt for violating the protective order and also requested emergency family maintenance for the bills in the house. At this point he hired me.

I interviewed my client and his witnesses. I tried to speak to the teenage boy but my efforts were blocked. The wife claimed that my client broke into the marital home and took a shower and stole various items. She also claimed that he came up to the front door and rang the doorbell and ran away.

At the hearing the wife testified and I was able to discredit her testimony completely about breaking into the house and taking a shower. There was no evidence that my client came into the home and the judge agreed with that. As to the ringing of the doorbell she testified as did her daughter that they saw my client come up to the house ring the doorbell and then drive away in the car. I was able to somewhat successfully discredit his wife but I was not able to really touch the daughter. She had no obvious motive to lie about this. The judge did find that my client violated the protective order but he was not locked up, he was warned not to do that again.

The wife additionally requested emergency family maintenance which included the water bill, the electric bill, the gas bill and the cable bill. Prior to the hearing I went through my client's finances and he was upside down. He earned less than he spent every month and he was living a very frugal lifestyle. At the hearing the wife testified and submitted the various bills that she had including a $400 cable bill. The law in Maryland requires emergency family maintenance for necessary items. The judge was rather shocked at the $400 cable bill. On cross-examination it became clear to the court that the wife had not worked in years, that in her petition for divorce she stated under oath that "I am self-supporting" and do not need money support. My client presented his pay stubs and his lease and his financial statement clearly showing that he was "upside down" in terms of income. The judge found for my client and did not order any family maintenance.

Had my client hired an attorney prior to the initial hearing it likely never would've even gotten to the point of a protective order. There is some truth to the saying spend a little now save a lot later.
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