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Baltimore councilman's traffic stop shows officers' discretion

Not all Maryland DUI stops are alike. Officers have the discretion to determine whether a Breathalyzer or other field sobriety tests are administered.

Baltimore Police have come under some scrutiny lately for the way they handled a traffic stop involving a city councilman late one night last month. They've released the body camera footage of the stop, which is unlikely to make anyone who has been arrested on suspicion of DUI feel any better.

The driver was stopped for running a stop sign and having two broken taillights. One officer tells the driver, who immediately identifies himself as being a member of the city council, that he "can smell a very strong odor of alcohol," The man first says that he's had only one beer, but later says that he's had just a glass of wine -- a discrepancy the officer points out to him.

The officer gives him the option of parking his car and calling an Uber or walking to his destination, which is apparently nearby, and taking a warning for running the stop sign. When the councilman objects to having to leave his car parked on the street, the officer says that "if you want to argue about this, what I'll do is get back in my car, I'll call someone who is field-sobriety-trained, and I'll have them run you through a field sobriety test." He agreed to take the warning.

A spokesman for the police department, in discussing the officers' decision not to arrest the councilman, said that they "possess discretion [and]….aren't compelled to make an arrest at a certain point." He also noted that the officers who pulled over the councilman were members of a special plainclothes unit that "uses traffic stops in an attempt to find other types of crime" including that involving guns and drugs.

Most drivers aren't provided with these options when a police officer believes they are under the influence. If you have been arrested for DUI, it's essential to seek legal guidance to help ensure that your rights are protected and that any evidence against you, including a Breathalyzer, is thoroughly reviewed before being admitted in court.

Source: The Baltimore Sun, "Body camera video shows traffic stop of Baltimore City councilman," Justin Fenton, Feb. 24, 2017

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