Law makes it harder to beat DWI charge


Harford residents who choose to drink alcohol and drive will find it harder to avoid legal punishment if they are arrested on charges of driving while intoxicated, authorities say.

A state law that goes into effect Oct. 1 establishes guilt if a suspect's blood alcohol content from breath test results is 0.10 or greater.

Called the "per se law," it means that a prosecutor needs only a minimum breath test result of 0.10 to prove the suspect is guilty of drunken driving. Under current law, a failing blood-alcohol test can merely be offered as evidence of guilt -- along with any evidence of innocence presented by the defense.

"On a first offense, if the defendant is willing to plead to the statement of facts, we will not oppose probation before judgment," said Mark W. Nelson, an assistant state's attorney. Some form of evaluation and alcohol treatment is required during a probation period monitored by the Drinking Driver Monitor Program.

Judges also are inclined to order the defendant to complete the Victim Impact Program, he said.

Assuming that no accident or injuries are involved, Mr. Nelson said, prosecutors seek a 30-day jail sentence for repeat offenders "and generally get it."

Defendants facing DWI charges a third time are looking at 90 days to six months in jail, he said. Four-time offenders can expect to serve six months to a year or more, he said.

In a recent case in Harford District Court before Judge Emory A. Plitt Jr., the defendant was a 44-year-old Bel Air woman who had two prior DWI convictions. She had registered 0.34 on a breath test. She was convicted, fined $1,000 and sentenced to one year in jail.

Judge Plitt suspended all but three weekends of the jail sentence. The judge also suspended half of the fine and placed the defendant on three years of supervised probation after the completion of her jail sentence.

Judge Plitt also ordered the woman to remain alcohol-free, submit to random urinalysis, to attend the county's Victim Impact Program and to attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings as directed after an evaluation by the county's Department of Mental Health.

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