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  • Ferrante & Dill LLC - Calvert County Lawyers
  • Drug Courts and Alternative Sentencing

    What IS A Drug Court?

    Drug Courts, sometimes called drug treatment courts or adult recovery courts, and alternative Sentencing programs offer options not available through the traditional court system to adult and juvenile non-violent criminal defendants who also have alcohol or drug addiction issues. Rather than going through the adversarial court system where a prosecutor tries to prove a crime occurred and impose a punishment, drug courts focus on alternative sentencing, including addiction treatment, in an attempt to reduce future crimes and help the defendant remain a productive member of society.

    The primary goal of drug courts is to provide treatment and opportunities to criminal offenders with addiction issues as a method of crime reduction. These alternative sentencing programs require great commitment from multiple government and community agencies including judges, law enforcement officers, drug treatment facilities, educators, attorneys, the department of child welfare, the department of social services and more.

    Southern Maryland is a leader in alternative sentencing. Calvert County has both adult and teen drug court programs. Charles County has a Family Recovery Court that places special focus on providing resources to keep children in close contact, and eventually be reunited with, their parents. St. Mary’s County has an adult drug court and a unique teen court in which a jury of teenage peers decide on penalties for fellow teens.

    n and simple–drug courts and alternative sentencing work. These programs reduce substance abuse, which in turn reduces crime, at a higher rate and with less expense, than traditional criminal penalties.

    Ok, but aren’t all courts drug courts?

    No. Not at all. The traditional judicial system is based on penal code–essentially finding a punishment that fits a crime. These punishments often include jail time, fines and probation. Sometimes, these sentences work. The problem is, when a person is struggling with alcohol or drug addiction they are motivated by the addiction–not swayed by potential punishments. Drug courts and alternative sentencing go to the heart of the matter–the addiction–and then provide resources and opportunities for people to rebuild their lives in the hopes that they have no motivation to commit future crimes.

    The drug court process is quite different from traditional courts. The ball gets rolling with a referral, which can come from a judge, the State’s Attorneys’ office, a public defender, department of juvenile services, or even the school system. Following a referral, a committee made of members from agencies that provide treatment and offer community services meets to review the applicant. The screening process is selective–there is currently about a 50% acceptance rate due to funding constraints.

    Once a person is accepted into a drug court program for alternative sentencing, the real work begins. The committee, made up of a cross-section of community members, meets to discuss an appropriate set of goals and determine which agencies are necessary to provide proper treatment for each individual seeking an alternative sentence. This process is collaborative; there is time for the defendant’s attorney to advocate for their client’s needs. The sentence is then presented to the judge or master that oversees the drug court, and a plan is put in place.

    Alternative sentences are not easy sentences. Far from it. The majority of these programs require hard work, often spanning a year or more. There is usually a community service element–our local Farming for Hunger program is largely staffed by people completing their sentences. Addiction treatment is a must, as are frequent drug tests, recovery support meetings, and appearances before a judge. Participants are expected to attend life skills classes aimed at preparing offenders to make great contributions to society. The classes teach skills that enable participants to obtain jobs and stable housing. When necessary, mental health counseling and parenting courses are included as part of a sentence. For a first time offender, alternative sentences give a person the chance to accept responsibility and get their lives back on track before they turn into a hardened criminal. Repeat offenders are offered the chance to break the cycle that leads to a revolving door of jail time and crime.

    Sanctions for failing to meet the terms of an alternative sentence can range from a judge’s warning to being sent back to traditional court for a prison sentence. Alternative sentencing is not a ‘get out of jail free’ card; instead these programs divert non-violent criminals out of the overburdened traditional court system and into a compassionate treatment program that gets to the root of the criminal behavior in the most cost-effective and beneficial manner to eliminate the need for expensive punishments.

    Why do you need an attorney for Drug Courts and Alternative Sentencing programs?

    With anything in life there are tradeoffs. In most cases you will need to admit that you are guilty of charges pending against you to enter into an alternative sentencing program. You are choosing to give up your right to fight your case in exchange for a less damaging sentence.

    You should never enter into such an arrangement without first discussing the merits of your case with an attorney. A Ferrante & Dill, LLC lawyer can analyze the facts of your case, advise you of potential penalties should you choose to go through the traditional court system, and help you evaluate whether you are interested and capable of completing all the alternative sentencing requirements. Remember, if you fail to complete the program, you may face harsh punishment.

    If you decide drug court is the right route for you, an attorney is a vital part of your team throughout the entire process. Our attorneys can assist in getting you qualified for a drug court program, advocate for the services that will meet your needs, explain all of the terms of your sentence, and help you prepare and submit all of the necessary paperwork. Additionally, your attorney will stand up with you at each of your court appearances throughout the sentence.

    Drug courts and alternative sentencing programs are not an easy way to avoid jail time; but if you’re willing to put in the time and effort they offer an opportunity to have a real chance at starting fresh with a productive life. Let the attorneys at Ferrante & Dill, LLC guide you through the process.  Contact us today at 410.535-6100.

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    Ferrante & Dill LLC - Calvert County Lawyers
  • Ferrante & Dill LLC - Calvert County Lawyers
  • DUI vs. DWI in Maryland- What’s the Difference?

    If you live in Maryland you may have noticed the roadside billboards that read “Buzzed driving is drunk driving.”  This may or may not be true depending on your tolerance for alcohol.  What is definitely true is that you don’t have to be knock-down-drag-out-drunk to face steep penalties. Maryland has a two-tier drunk driving statute.  The lower of the two offenses is Driving While Impaired (DWI) and the more severe is  Driving Under the Influence (DUI). Both carry the possibility of jail time, the loss of your privilege to drive and fines.  The only sure fire way to stay safe, protect others on the road and avoid punishment is to not drive at all if you have alcohol in your body.

    A police officer who pulls you over and suspects that alcohol is affecting your driving may ask you to submit to a field sobriety test to determine if your coordination, vision or judgment is impaired.  You will also be asked to provide a breath sample to determine your Blood Alcohol Content (BAC). Urine tests are less common to measure for BAC but can detect the presence of other substances in your bloodstream such as marijuana or other drugs.

    A police officer cannot force you to take a field sobriety test. However, there are automatic penalties for choosing not to submit to the tests. If you refuse to take the field sobriety test, your license will automatically be suspended for 120 days for your first refusal. If your job or lifestyle requires driving on a daily basis, you may be able to avoid the license suspension by installing an ignition interlock system, which requires blowing into a breathalyzer before your car will start, for an entire year. If you refuse to take a field sobriety test during a second or third suspected alcohol-impaired driving situation, your license may be suspended for an entire year. Upon DUI or DWI conviction, there may be additional penalties including a fine of up to $1,000 and a year in prison.

    If you take the field sobriety test, your BAC is less than .08, and you show other signs of impairment, you can still be charged with DWI. If you blow a BAC of .08 or higher, your charge will be elevated to a DUI. If you are under age 21 (Maryland’s legal drinking age) and blow a BAC of .02, you will be charged with a DUI as an adult. Your criminal exposure is even worse if you have minor children in the car at the time or are involved in an accident that injures someone.

    The field sobriety tests are not easy even if you are sober.  They involve acts of coordination and following sometimes vague instructions from the police officer.  Even if you only feel buzzed, it is likely that you will fail at least some parts of the test resulting in a charge that you will have to defend in court.  If convicted of DWI you could receive up to two months in jail and a fine of up to $500.  For a DUI the potential penalties increase to a year in jail and/or a $1000 fine.  In addition to these penalties you could lose your license, have it suspended or be required to install an interlock device on your car that requires you to blow into it every time you want to start your car.  Subsequent offenses carry even more severe penalties.

    The most serious consequence of drinking and driving is the threat that an impaired driver poses to his or her own safety and the safety of others on the road.  Add the potential legal consequences to the equation and it’s easy to see how “just a few drinks” can turn into a nightmare with serious legal consequences. Using a sober driver is the best way to avoid a DWI or DUI conviction. However, if you have been charged with either of these acts, an attorney at Ferrante & Dill, LLC can help you navigate the criminal justice system.

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    Ferrante & Dill LLC - Calvert County Lawyers
  • Ferrante & Dill LLC - Calvert County Lawyers
  • If I Get a DUI – How Will Noah’s Law Impact Me?

    St. Paddy’s day, summer picnics, and BBQ season are on the horizon. With all the fun comes an abundance of libations which, unfortunately, leads to an increase in Driving Under the Influence (DUI) incidents, arrests, and fatalities. A recently proposed law, Maryland House Bill 1342 and Senate Bill 945, known as “Noah’s Law,” seeks to toughen Maryland’s DUI penalties by requiring ignition interlocks on the vehicles of every person convicted of a DUI in Maryland. Noah’s Law has not passed through the Maryland legislature yet, however, it is supported by both Maryland Governor Larry Hogan and Maryland Senate President Mike Miller.

    Noah’s Law is named after a Montgomery County police office, Noah Leotta, who was killed by a suspected drunk driver in December 2015.  Leotta was conducting a traffic stop as part of the holiday DUI enforcement task force when he was hit by the alleged drunk driver. The man who struck Leotta is currently awaiting his day in court.

    If you get pulled over for suspected DUI, the police officer will request you submit to a series of sobriety tests including a breathalyzer to determine your blood alcohol concentration (BAC). If you refuse to take the test, the police officer may confiscate your license on the spot; it can be suspended for 120 days for a first offense and one year for any repeat offenses.

    Under current Maryland law, if you submit to the breathalyzer, your blood alcohol content (BAC) is an important factor in determining your privilege to drive.  For a first time offender, a BAC between .08 and .14 results in a 45 day license suspension. If your BAC is .15 or greater on your first offense, you may receive a 90 day license suspension. For those with prior convictions, a BAC between .08 and .14 results in a 90 day license suspension; BAC that is .15 or higher results in a 180 day license suspension. Those with Commercial Drivers Licenses (CDL) may lose their license for as long as one year for a first offense (3 years if carrying hazardous materials), and face lifetime CDL disqualification for any subsequent DUIs.

    In addition to license suspensions, those convicted of DUI with a BAC of .15 or higher, who are under age 21, or had children in the car at the time of the offense are required to install an ignition interlock device into their vehicle. Noah’s Law, as proposed, aims to require every single person convicted of a DUI with a BAC of .08 or greater to install the ignition interlock, even for a first offense.

    Ignition interlock works by requiring a driver to blow into a breathalyzer that is installed in their vehicle and connected to the car’s engine. If the ignition interlock detects alcohol higher than a pre-set limit, the vehicle cannot be started. Drivers who believe the system is picking up on something other than alcohol may rinse their mouths, with mouthwash even, and make another attempt at starting the engine by blowing into the system. Recent technological developments, including in-vehicle cameras, make it more difficult to tamper with the results of ignition interlock tests in order to start a vehicle while inebriated.

    Twenty-five states, including both of our border states Delaware and Virginia, already require ignition interlock for all first time and subsequent DUI offenders. The National Highway Traffic Safety considers ignition interlocks a cost effective way to reduce repeat alcohol related motor vehicle offenses, even with high-risk offenders that have multiple prior offenses. Interlock reduces second time drunk driving offenses by at least 67 percent. After making ignition interlock mandatory for all convicted drunk drivers, states like Arizona and New Mexico recorded greater than 40 percent declines in highway deaths due to drunk driving. In a single year, ignition interlocks stopped at least 3,800 attempts at drunk driving in Maryland. Imagine what could have happened if those 3,800 drunk drivers were swerving down our roads.

    Driving under the influence is no joke in Maryland, and it looks like penalties are about to get more strict for many offenders. In addition to the criminal penalties, if you’ve been charged with a DUI, you have the right to an MVA hearing to preserve your right to operate a motor vehicle. If you do not request a hearing within 10 days of the traffic stop, on the 46th day after the “order of suspension” date specified on the Officer’s certification and Order of Suspension, your Maryland drivers’ license is suspended or disqualified. Go ahead and read that last sentence again. That legalese is just the tip of the iceberg of what you will experience when you seek an MVA hearing to plead your case regarding your DUI arrest. An attorney skilled and experienced with DUI cases will be able to guide you through the entire process–from filing your request for a hearing with the MVA, to preparing for your hearing, to representing you in criminal court.

    You may have made the first mistake by getting behind the wheel of a vehicle while intoxicated; don’t make the second mistake of going into a hearing without an attorney by your side.

    To find out more about Noah’s Law, visit the Maryland State General Assembly’s website.

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