Drunk Driver’s May Lose License Permanently

A major topic of potential change in Maryland law before the current session of the legislature involves addressing the recent spate of tragic motor vehicle accidents which have taken the lives of young people. Many of these cases involve alcohol or drugs. Maryland law provides not only for fines and potential imprisonment of persons who drive while under the influence of alcohol, but also allows the Motor Vehicle Administration to suspend or revoke the license of persons convicted of such offenses.

The Maryland Court of Appeals recently made it clear that persons who have had their license revoked in another state cannot get a Maryland license while their privileges are revoked in another state. This has been the law for many years, since Maryland is part of an interstate Compact with a number of other states to prevent persons whose privileges are revoked from moving here in order to get a license. In Maryland, a driver convicted of driving while under the influence of alcohol may have their license revoked, while the lesser charge of driving while impaired (a blood alcohol level of .05 to .08 percent) may face a suspension. A driver who refuses to take an alcohol test also faces a suspension for that refusal.

Once a driver has his license revoked in Maryland, he can reapply but cannot have the license reinstated for at least six months. For a second revocation, the individual can file within one year, for a third 18 months, and a fourth two years. The Motor Vehicle Administration must be satisfied that the individual’s habits and driving ability are sufficiently safe to warrant reinstatement.

In its recent opinion in Gwin v. Motor Vehicle Administration, Maryland’s highest Court addressed an appeal from the Administration’s denial of a license application without conducting any investigation. Mr. Gwin had four convictions for driving under the influence, the last one in 1984 which resulted in a revocation of his license in Illinois and also in Florida. Under Florida law, a fourth revocation is permanent. He moved to Maryland in 2000 and alleged that he had received treatment for alcoholism and had been sober since 2000. Since the Compact provided that an application for a new license after one year from the date of revocation may be made “if permitted by law”, Gwin argued that under Maryland law the Administration at least had to do an investigation into whether he deserved to obtain a license.

The Court held that the Administration properly applied the provisions of the Maryland Transportation Article that prohibit the Administration from issuing a license while an individual’s license to drive is revoked in another state. Since Gwin’s Florida license was permanently revoked, it was not permitted by law for him to get a Maryland license. Thus even though Florida’s law is even stricter than Maryland’s statute, he could not get a Maryland license.

Hopefully such strict enforcement of the most stringent state laws will help deter drivers from getting their first drunk driving conviction, much less four strikes against them.