ANNAPOLIS — More than 18 months after a crash in Carroll County killed their sister, Beatrice Grant and Jacqueline Golden are seeking to change the way possible drunken drivers are treated at the scene of the collision.
At a hearing in the House of Delegates Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, however, legislators seemed skeptical that the proposed legislation, introduced by Baltimore Del. Curt Anderson, D-District 43, will have any meaningful effect.
Mary Ann Christopher, 68, of the Virgin Islands, was killed Aug. 31, 2013, at the intersection of Md. 140 and Cranberry Road in Westminster when the car she was a passenger in was struck by a vehicle, driven by Christopher Trinity Hill, running a red light.
Witnesses at the scene told the responding trooper from the Maryland State Police Westminster Barrack that there were open containers of beer in Hill's car, and a search of the vehicle also revealed marijuana, according to court documents. Hill was never tested for drug or alcohol use because neither police nor hospital staff observed any signs of impairment.
"In a matter of minutes, [the police officer] is required to determine who is at fault and whether they should be tested," Golden said Wednesday in support of HB 532.
Hill, 22, of Westminster, pleaded guilty Aug. 11 to negligent driving and possession of marijuana. He received no jail time.
The "three Golden girls," as the sisters called themselves, all hailed from the U.S. Virgin Islands, but Grant and Golden have been Maryland residents for decades, living in Carroll County and Baltimore, respectively. Christopher, an educator, artist and historian, was visiting to celebrate Grant's 50th wedding anniversary.
Grant and Golden sought to change the law to require drug and alcohol testing for anyone involved in a fatal crash, but it is a violation of the Fourth Amendment to compel someone to give a breath or blood sample for testing without probable cause that a crime has been committed.
The law Anderson proposed would require a police officer at the scene of a crash that results in death or serious injury to direct a driver suspected of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs to submit to testing to determine their blood alcohol level.
Currently, the law states that an officer with reasonable suspicion that a driver involved in a crash was intoxicated may ask that driver to submit to a breath or blood test and can force him or her to submit to testing if there was a fatality or serious injury.
Anderson said the bill "closes a little gap in the law" by stating that an officer "shall" direct the driver to be tested rather than "may" have the driver tested as soon as that officer suspects drugs or alcohol are involved in the crash.
Committee members questioned whether the change in the law would make a difference, particularly in a situation such as Hill's crash, because the trooper did make a determination that Hill showed no signs of impairment at the scene.
Frederick County Del. William Folden, R-District 3B, said that as a police officer with experience investigating fatal collisions, he believed the current law was as broad as possible to allow police to test someone they thought was intoxicated after a crash.
"I've seen many lives lost at the hands of impaired drivers," he said, but added that a fatal crash alone does not create probable cause to conduct a "search" of someone's breath or blood.
Montgomery County Del. William Smith Jr., D-District 20, also questioned whether a change in the language was necessary.
"It seems like it's already there," he said.
Leonard Stamm, a criminal defense attorney and former president of the Maryland Criminal Defense Attorneys' Association, testified in opposition of the bill in part to bring up potential problems with the existing law based on a 2013 Supreme Court decision.
In Missouri v. McNeely, the court held that the natural dissipation of alcohol in the bloodstream does not automatically mean a blood test can be conducted without waiting for a warrant, according to Stamm.
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Because the standard in the law now is "reasonable suspicion" and not probable cause when a police officer is at the scene of a crash involving death or serious bodily injury, Stamm said the law could lead to constitutional violations.
Stamm said that after this ruling, the U.S. Park Police established a system in which officers could call a magistrate at any time and get verbal authorization to conduct a blood test based on probable cause. He suggested trying to set up a similar system in Maryland to avoid driving under the influence arrests being thrown out of court.
Reach staff writer Heather Cobun at 410-857-7898 or email email@example.com.
House Bill 430: Increases the administrative penalties that can be imposed on a person if test results indicate a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08 or higher and the person was involved in a collision resulting in the death of another person.
House Bill 395: Allows for higher maximum sentences for a person with at least one prior alcohol-related driving conviction, excluding probation before judgment, involved in a motor vehicle collision resulting in the deathof or life-threatening injury to another.
House Bill 872: Requires participation in the ignition interlock program for all drivers convicted of an alcohol-related driving offense, including first convictions but excluding probation before judgment.