Three cheers for county prosecutors' plans to appeal a judge's dismissal of charges against a woman accused of driving under the influence of alcohol because, the judge ruled, the police had illegal quotas for issuing DUI citations. It was a misguided decision and should be overturned.
On Jan. 5, District Court Judge Sue-Ellen Hantman dismissed a case involving an Ellicott City woman who had been stopped for speeding and then found to have a blood-alcohol content more than twice the legal limit. Hantman ruled that the charges were linked to illegal police quotas for DUI citations. In arguing for dismissal, the driver's attorney had produced internal police memos, including one noting that the federal grant funding the department's DUI patrols mandated that officers on the so-called "saturation patrols" write an average of 2-to-4 citations per hour.
After the judge's ruling, county Police Chief William McMahon conceded the memo was faulty and said it had been reworded. But he vehemently denied that the department has any such quotas, which are illegal, and decried the decision as a "bad ruling."
He's right, of course. It is a bad ruling.
It's bad because one memorandum outlining the terms of a grant, however inartfully worded or potentially confusing, does not mean the department has quotas.
It's bad because it allowed a driver, stopped for a legitimate reason and found to be driving after drinking too much, to be freed from any punishment.
It's bad because it could encourage other drivers stopped for DUI (or their attorneys) in similar circumstances to use the same argument.
Most of all, the decision is bad because it jeopardizes a useful and completely legal and sensible tool police have in fighting the scourge of drunk driving. Is that what anyone wants to see happen?
Last week, the deputy state's attorney for Howard County told the Howard County Times and Columbia Flier that the county will appeal the judge's decision. We wish that appeal the best of luck.