The Push to Mandate Interlock Ignition Device Use for a PBJ Is UnwarrantedThere are numerous severe consequences to a driving under the influence (DUI) conviction in Maryland. You can be sentenced to some prison time even for a first-time conviction. You will have to pay a fine and court costs. Your insurance premiums will skyrocket after you serve any suspension period. Your driver’s license could be revoked.

Currently, you could also be required to install an ignition interlock device (IID) on your vehicle for a specific period of time after a DUI or DWI conviction. An IID tests your blood alcohol content (BAC) level before you start your car and while your car is in operation. If your BAC level is too high before your being your trip, your ignition will not work and you won’t be able to start your vehicle. If your BAC level registers too high while you are driving, your car will sound alarms and lights will flash, forcing you to pull off to the side of the road and turn off your engine.

Some legislators and members of the public such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) are now supporting a law to amend Maryland’s laws that mandates IIDs for all DUI/DWI convictions. This new law, SB 528, would require the installation of an ignition breathalyzer interlock for people who are convicted of drunk driving in cases where a judge grants probation before judgment. According to CBS News, these advocates claim the current IID laws aren’t strong enough, and that the probation before judgment exception is a loophole.

What is probation before judgment?

Probation before judgment (PBJ) means that a defendant who is charged with a DUI, DWI, or other crime is put on probation before a judge renders a decision. The defendant must comply with the terms of probation, and if they complete the terms of probation satisfactorily, then the charges are dismissed and the defendant does not have a criminal record.

These conditions include the following:

  • A stay of the entering of judgment – the guilty plea or nolo contendere plea
  • Deferring further proceedings
  • Placing the defendant on probation subject to reasonable conditions if:
    • “the court finds that the best interests of the defendant and the public welfare would be served; and
    • the defendant gives written consent after determination of guilt or acceptance of a nolo contendere plea.”

The conditions may include an order that the defendant:

  • Pay a fine or monetary penalty to the State or make restitution or
  • Participate in a rehabilitation program, the parks program, or a voluntary hospital program.

The judge sets the length of the probation period which may be months or years.

You are normally not eligible for a PBJ if:

  • You are charged with a second-time DUI or DWI offense or your prior DUI/DWI conviction or PBJ was less than 10 years ago.
  • You were convicted of certain types of first-time felonies or misdemeanors including most sex crimes, crimes that carry a mandatory penalty, crimes of violence, and when other conditions apply.

The PBJ program generally does not apply when a defendant has a very high BAC.

SB 528 and PBJs

SB 528 would close what MADD and others claim is a “loophole.” Under this legislation, drivers who are charged with a DWI/DUI and who are approved for a PBJ would still need to install and use an IID. If the law passes, it will become effective as of October 1, 2023. Without the passage of the law, an IID is not required.

Our problem with SB 528 is that it is unfair. It presumes that drivers who accept placement in the PBJ program are guilty. Many defendants charged with DUI/DWI are in fact not guilty, or the prosecution doesn’t have enough evidence to show that they are.

And, look – a PBJ is no walk in the park, either. Many defendants agree to a PBJ to avoid the risk that they “might” be found guilty and have a criminal record, lose their license, and have to pay a fine. Plus, PBJs may have severe consequences for anyone who is not a US citizen, needs a CDL license, or needs a security clearance. These people are already giving up valuable rights; they shouldn’t have to be treated like convicted criminals when they’re not.

Also, if you think PBJs are some kind of “treat” for the accused, you should know – it’s not like the prosecution doesn’t benefit from a PBJ. There are many benefits to a PBJ for prosecutors. They don’t have to prove a weak case. The defendant generally cannot appeal any mistakes or weaknesses in a prosecutor’s case. In fact, many Circuit Court judges offer a probation before judgment even after a conviction because they recognize the risk the conviction may be overturned on appeal.

Most people who accept a PBJ also agree to education courses about the dangers of drinking and driving. Many DUI/DWI defendants also agree to substance abuse treatment requirements. In many cases, making an IID mandatory will mean the defendants end up choosing trials that cost the government a lot of money and risk that defendants with substance abuse problems drive under the influence again instead of getting the treatment they need.

Mandatory use of IIDs for a DUI or DWI is unfair. At Drew Cochran, Attorney at Law, our Annapolis and Ellicott City drunk driving lawyer understands the unique challenges involved in defending DUI and DWI cases. We question the officer’s right to stop you, the validity of the tests, whether the tests were conducted properly, and use every other defense available. We regularly encourage defendants who face the possibility of a conviction to consider a probation before judgment, but only if this is the correct move for you personally.

I’ve been fighting for criminal defendants for over 20 years. Please call me if you’ve been charged with any criminal offense, including driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs or driving while intoxicated. You can schedule a consultation by calling me or completing my contact form.

And remember: Keep Calm – and Call Drew.