Even as prosecutors weigh an appeal of a Howard County judge's decision to throw out drunken-driving charges and rule that they were tied to illegal citation quotas, defense lawyers are considering whether the same defense might apply to past or current cases.
District Court Judge Sue-Ellen Hantman's ruling in a case against an Ellicott City woman has raised questions on both sides — as well as eyebrows around the legal community.
Leonard Stamm, a Prince George's County lawyer who wrote a legal handbook called "Maryland DUI Law," said the case puts lawyers who defend people charged with drunken driving on notice for a potential avenue for defense.
Though as a District Court ruling it has no bearing on other cases, defendants coming before other judges can bring it up. "Now that it's out there, it's something you have to look for," Stamm said.
Hantman said the charges against Katie Majorie Quackenbush, 22, were linked to an illegal quota — a ruling based on a memorandum that police have said was intended to describe the requirements of a federal grant that paid overtime for officers to target drunken and aggressive drivers through "saturation patrols."
"I find any evidence in this case to be inadmissible," she said, according to a recording of her Thursday ruling, and that ended the prosecution. Nevertheless, the judge indicated that "I don't think saturation patrols are in and of themselves illegal, merely the quotas."
Howard County Deputy State's Attorney Mary V. Murphy said she doubted there were more than a fewunresolved drunken-driving cases stemming from the saturation patrols that were tied to the internal memo. Her office is looking into appeal options.
Still, she said any new potential defense sparks a flurry of activity from the defense bar. Quotas are illegal in Maryland, Murphy said, as is judging officers' work by whether they have met them
Scott Athen, an attorney who does a lot of drunken-driving defense work in Howard, said he hadn't heard of the issue before Thursday's case. He said he expects attorneys will look for this as a possible defense not only in the county but probably beyond, because other areas receive grant money to fund similar drunken-driving patrols.
"I'm actually considering going back and looking through my files and seeing if there's anything I can do to possibly reopen some cases," he said.
This is the first time lawyers and police can recall that a judge threw out a criminal case based on such a document. The driver's attorney, Mark Muffoletto, subpoenaed the police memos that became the linchpin of his case.
"I have at least two other cases that stem from the same email and citations and saturation patrol," he said.
He said the woman's blood-alcohol content registered 0.17 percent, more than twice the legal limit. More information about the grant-funded saturation patrols was not immediately available from county police Friday.
The officer was working on overtime funded by a federal grant to target drunken and aggressive drivers, he said.
The police chief said a memo to officers that called for two to four citations per hour contained, “in retrospect, not the best wording,” and conceded that he “could see how it could be misinterpreted.” He said the department does not use quotas and had revised the memo.
The memo also told the officers on the drunken-driving and aggressive-driving saturation patrols that they usually produce “at or above these amounts.”
The federal funds come from the National Traffic Safety Administration to the state, according to Buel Young, a spokesman for the state Motor Vehicle Administration. Jurisdictions can apply for them.
“We stand side by side with Chief McMahon and Howard County police in verifying that there are no quotas associated with or are prerequisites for the use of NHTSA highway safety funding,” Young said.