Strong Odor of Alcohol present substantial evidence for the office to request a chemical test.  See case below.

Motor Vehicle Administration v. Jerry Dale Sanner, No. 101, September Term, 2008.

Opinion by Bell, C.J.
ADMINISTRATIVE LAW AND PROCEDURE–JUDICIAL REVIEW: The Court of
Appeals held that the administrative law judge’s determination was supported by substantial
evidence that the police officer possessed reasonable grounds to request an alcohol content
test under Transportation Article § 16-205, where the administrative law judge found that the
officer had certified that a strong odor of an alcoholic beverage was present on the breath and
person of a driver involved in a motor vehicle crash.
IN THE COURT OF APPEALS
OF MARYLAND
No. 101
September Term, 2008
MOTOR VEHICLE ADMINISTRATION
v.
JERRY DALE SANNER
Barbera, C.J.
Harrell
Battaglia
Greene
Adkins
*Bell
*Murphy
JJ.
Opinion by Bell, C.J.
Filed: August 22, 2013
*Bell, C.J., now retired, participated in the
hearing and conference of this case while an
active member of this Court; after being
recalled pursuant to the Constitution, Article
IV, Section 3A he also participated in the
decision and adoption of this opinion.
*Murphy, J., now retired, participated in the
hearing and conference of this case while an
active member of this Court, but did not
participate in the decision or adoption of this
opinion.
The respondent, Jerry Dale Sanner, was the driver of one of the motor vehicles
involved in an accident on the night of May 12, 2007, in Westminister, Maryland. The
officer that responded to the accident scene, having noted a “strong odor of alcoholic
beverage emitting from the person and breath” of the respondent, arrested the respondent,
and requested that he take a blood test to determine alcohol concentration. Following a
hearing before the Motor Vehicle Administration (“MVA”), on December 10, 2007, the
Administrative Law Judge suspended the respondent’s drivers license for 90 days pursuant
to Maryland Code (1977, 2006 Repl. Vol.) § 16-205.1 (b) (1) (I) (2) (A) of the Transportation
Article.1
1 In relevant part, Maryland Code (1977, 2006 Repl. Vol.) § 16-205.1 of the
Transportation Article provides:
“(a)(2) Any person who drives or attempts to drive a motor vehicle on a
highway or on any private property that is used by the public in general in this
State is deemed to have consented, subject to the provisions of §§ 10-302
through 10-309, inclusive, of the Courts and Judicial Proceedings Article, to
take a test if the person should be detained on suspicion of driving or
attempting to drive while under the influence of alcohol, while impaired by
alcohol, while so far impaired by any drug, any combination of drugs, or a
combination of one or more drugs and alcohol that the person could not drive
a vehicle safely, while impaired by a controlled dangerous substance, in
violation of an alcohol restriction, or in violation of § 16-813 of this title.
* * * *
“(b)(1) Except as provided in subsection (c) of this section, a person may not
be compelled to take a test. However, the detaining officer shall advise the
person that, on receipt of a sworn statement from the officer that the person
was so charged and refused to take a test, or was tested and the result indicated
an alcohol concentration of 0.08 or more, the Administration shall:
“(i) In the case of a person licensed under this title:
“1. Except as provided in item 2 of this item, for a test result
indicating an alcohol concentration of 0.08 or more at the time
of testing:
“A. For a first offense, suspend the driver’s license for
The Circuit Court for Carroll County reversed the order of suspension, holding that
“reasonable grounds . . . that [Mr. Sanner] was under the influence of alcohol or intoxicated,”
could be inferred “only if, in combination with the odor of alcohol, the accident was [Mr.
Sanner’s] fault.” The petitioner, the MVA, filed with this Court a petition for writ of
certiorari, which we granted. Motor Vehicle Admin. v. Sanner, 406 Md. 443, 959 A.2d 792
(2008). The question presented 2 for review is:
“Does a police officer’s certification that a strong odor of an
45 days; or
“B. For a second or subsequent offense, suspend the
driver’s license for 90 days;
“2. For a test result indicating an alcohol concentration of 0.15
or more at the time of testing:
“A. For a first offense, suspend the driver’s license for 90
days; or
“B. For a second or subsequent offense, suspend the
driver’s license for 180 days; or
“3. For a test refusal:
“A. For a first offense, suspend the driver’s license for
120 days; or
“B. For a second or subsequent offense, suspend the
driver’s license for 1 year[.]”
2 Maryland Code (1974, 2013 Repl. Vol.) § 12-305 of the Courts and Judicial
Proceedings Article provides:
“The Court of Appeals shall require by writ of certiorari that a decision be
certified to it for review and determination in any case in which a circuit court
has rendered a final judgment on appeal from the District Court or has
rendered a final judgment on appeal from an administrative decision under
Title 16 of the Transportation Article if it appears to the Court of Appeals,
upon petition of a party that:
“(1) Review is necessary to secure uniformity of decision, as where the
same statute has been construed differently by two or more judges; or
“(2) There are other special circumstances rendering it desirable and in
the public interest that the decision be reviewed.”
Thus, this Court has certiorari jurisdiction over this action.
-2-
alcoholic beverage was present on the breath and person of a
driver involved in a motor vehicle crash constitute reasonable
grounds to request an alcohol content test under Transportation
Article §16-205.1 (b) (2)?”3
We shall hold that the Administrative Law Judge’s (“ALJ”) determination, that the
arresting officer had reasonable grounds to request that the respondent take a chemical test
for alcohol concentration, was supported by substantial evidence, and, therefore, was not
arbitrary, capricious, or premised on any erroneous conclusion of law. Accordingly, and for
the reasons set forth hereinafter, answering the question presented in the affirmative, we shall
Maryland Code (1977, 2009 Repl. Vol.) §16-205.1 (b) (2) of 3 the Transportation
Article provides:
“(2) Except as provided in subsection (c) of this section, if a police officer
stops or detains any person who the police officer has reasonable grounds to
believe is or has been driving or attempting to drive a motor vehicle while
under the influence of alcohol, while impaired by alcohol, while so far
impaired by any drug, any combination of drugs, or a combination of one or
more drugs and alcohol that the person could not drive a vehicle safely, while
impaired by a controlled dangerous substance, in violation of an alcohol
restriction, or in violation of § 16-813 of this title, and who is not unconscious
or otherwise incapable of refusing to take a test, the police officer shall:
“(I) Detain the person;
“(ii) Request that the person permit a test to be taken;
“(iii) Advise the person of the administrative sanctions that shall be
imposed for test results indicating an alcohol concentration of at least
0.08 but less than 0.15 at the time of testing;
“(iv) Advise the person of the administrative sanctions, including
ineligibility for modification of a suspension or issuance of a restrictive
license unless the person participates in the Ignition Interlock System
Program under § 16-404.1 of this title, that shall be imposed for refusal
to take the test and for test results indicating an alcohol concentration of
0.15 or more at the time of testing; and
“(v) Advise the person of the additional criminal penalties that may be
imposed under § 27-101(x) of this article on conviction of a violation of
§ 21-902 of this article if the person knowingly refused to take a test
arising out of the same circumstances as the violation.”
-3-
reverse the judgment of the Circuit Court.
I. Background
On May 12, 2007, at approximately 10:00 p.m., a vehicle collision occurred at the
intersection of Flower Avenue and Maine Street in Westminister, Maryland. Upon his arrival
at the scene of the collision, Trooper First Class Brian Clinton of the Maryland State Police
(“MSP”) determined that the respondent was the driver of one of the vehicles involved in the
collision and, while interacting with the respondent, he detected a strong odor of alcoholic
beverage “emitting from [his] person and breath.” The respondent was arrested for driving
under the influence of alcohol and taken to Carroll Hospital Center.
Upon his arrival at the hospital, the respondent was advised, through the MVA’s DR-
15 “Advice of Rights” form, of the consequences of refusing or failing 4 a chemical test for
alcohol, and the administrative sanctions attendant to the taking or refusing of a test for
alcohol content. The respondent agreed to take a test for alcohol content. Trooper Clinton
directed an emergency care technician at the hospital to draw a specimen of blood from the
respondent. That specimen was tested at the MSP Forensics Science Division by a qualified
analyst, with the result that Mr. Sanner’s blood alcohol content was found to be 0.22 – more
than two-and-a-half times the legal limit. The test result was duly certified on MSP Form 33
(Notification to Defendant of Result of Test Alcohol Concentration). Trooper Clinton also
completed a MVA DR-15A (Officer’s Certification and Order of Suspension) form, in which
4 The office and purpose of the DR-15 was explored at length in Motor Vehicle
Admin. v. Atterbeary, 368 Md. 480, 485–486 n.1, 796 A.2d. 75, 78–79 n.1 (2002).
-4-
he set forth the “Reasonable Grounds” for his belief that Mr. Sanner 5 was driving or
attempting to drive a motor vehicle while under the influence or impaired by alcohol. He
wrote:
“On 5/12/07 at 2200 hrs I responded to Flower Ave at Main St. for an accident.
The 1st driver was identified by his [Maryland] Driver’s License to be Jerry
Dale Sanner. I detected a strong odor of alcoholic beverage emitting from
person and breath. A blood test was completed and a .22 result was detected.”
The respondent was notified that his driving privileges would be suspended for 90
days. In response, as he was permitted by § 16-205.1 (f) (1) of the Transportation Article6 to
5 In addition to “Reasonable Grounds,” every MVA DR-15A form contains a section
entitled “Certification of Police Officer,” which reads:
“I, the undersigned officer, had reasonable grounds to believe that the driver
described and named above had been driving or attempting to drive a motor
vehicle on a highway or on any private property that is used by the public in
general in this State while under the influence of alcohol, while impaired by
alcohol, while so far impaired by any drug, any combination of drugs, or a
combination of one or more drugs and alcohol that the person could not drive
a vehicle safely while impaired by a controlled dangerous substance, in
violation of an alcohol restriction, or in violation of Section 16-813 of the
Maryland Vehicle Law.”
6 Section 16-205.1 (f) (1) of the Transportation Article states, in pertinent part:
“(f) Notice and hearing on refusal to take test; suspension of license or
privilege to drive; disqualification from driving commercial vehicles. –
“(1) Subject to the provisions of this subsection, at the time of, or
within 30 days from the date of, the issuance of an order of suspension,
a person may submit a written request for a hearing before an officer of
the Administration if:
“(I) The person is arrested for driving or attempting to drive a
motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol, while
impaired by alcohol, while so far impaired by any drug, any
combination of drugs, or a combination of one or more drugs
and alcohol that the person could not drive a vehicle safely,
while impaired by a controlled dangerous substance, in violation
of an alcohol restriction, or in violation of § 16-813 of this title;
and
-5-
do, the respondent requested a hearing to challenge the MVA’s order of suspension. The
matter was heard by an ALJ of the Maryland Office of Administrative Hearings, who accepted
into evidence, without objection from the respondent, documentary exhibits offered by the
MVA, namely, 1) Trooper Clinton’s DR15A Certification; 2) The DR-15 Advice of Rights
form signed by Trooper Clinton and the respondent; and 3) the MSP-33 Notification to
Defendant of Result of Test Alcohol Concentration form. which recorded the respondent’s
test result of 0.22. Trooper Clinton had not been subpoenaed to the hearing.
After these exhibits had been admitted, the respondent moved for a “no action”
disposition. He argued:
“[t]here [was] no evidence in the record, particularly the officer’s certification,
[MVA exhibit] Number Four, which indicate[s] that the police officer who
stopped or detained Mr. Sanner had reasonable grounds to believe the person
who was driving or attempting to drive while under the influence of alcohol or
while impaired by alcohol. The [Maryland Transportation Article] clearly
requires that in 16-205.1 (f) (8) (1). The only evidence, the only indication of
anything is that there is emitting… Alcohol beverage emitting from the person
and breath. Nothing else indicates in any way that Mr. Sanner is under the
influence of or was impaired by alcohol. Clearly alcohol breath in itself isn’t
sufficient for those grounds under any standard in any judicial system for
proving what is necessary to proceed under 16-205.1 and based upon those
grounds no action should be taken.”
The ALJ continued the matter so that Trooper Clinton could appear and testify. When the
case reconvened, Trooper Clinton failed to appear, and the respondent renewed his request
for a “no action” disposition. The ALJ reviewed the documentary evidence that had been
“(ii) 1. There is an alcohol concentration of 0.08 or more at
the time of testing; or
“2. The person refused to take a test.”
Maryland Code (1977, 2009 Repl. Vol.) §16-205.1 (f) (1) of the Transportation
Article.
-6-
admitted previously and, regarding the issue of reasonable grounds, concluded that it was
sufficient and that the petitioner had made out a prima facie case. The ALJ reasoned:
“[A]t this time I’m not going to grant the no action on the basis of the
documents alone. I’m certainly willing to listen to testimony from your client,
but in terms of the basis of the officer to make the stop of this particular
individual, the accident in and of itself is more than sufficient grounds to
interact with this particular person on that date and time. The accident is what
can be the triggering event that this officer would have reasonable grounds to
believe the person was driving or attempting to drive a motor vehicle under the
influence or impaired by alcohol. There are lots of different cases, if you look
at [Motor Vehicle Admin. v.] Illiano, [390 Md. 265, 888 A.2d 329 (2005)];
Illiano very specifically says that it can be a failed headlight. It can be an
expired tag. It can be a good faith stop for help and safety reasons. It can be a
whole host of different reasons why an officer may stop and interact with the
driver. It doesn’t necessarily have to be the observation of weaving, running
through red lights. It doesn’t necessarily have to be the observation of driving.
If you go to Illiano it details a whole host of different scenarios in which an
officer can interact with a driver and that interaction with the driver would be
sufficient to make the grounds that this person was driving. And then it takes
it from there.
“So I have found that this officer had more than sufficient grounds and
reasonable; more importantly reasonable grounds to believe that Mr. Sanner
was driving or attempting to drive a motor vehicle while under the influence or
impaired by alcohol. Not only do I have the boilerplate language but I have
very clearly the officer’s hand written notations under the reasonable grounds
that Mr. Sanner was the driver involved in a motor vehicle accident.
“So at this point I would entertain testimony from [Mr. Sanner] to challenge the
MVA’s prima facie case at this time. If there’s a challenge that would call into
question [sic] then at that point I may change my ruling.”
After the respondent declined to testify on the merits or proffer any testimony that
might have undermined the probative value of Trooper Clinton’s certification, the ALJ
upheld the order suspending the respondent’s driving privileges for 90 days. The respondent,
challenging the ALJ’s order, filed a petition for judicial review in the Circuit Court for Carroll
-7-
County. Following a hearing, the Circuit Court reversed the ALJ’s decision, issuing the
following “Memorandum Opinion and Order”:
“Once [Mr. Sanner] declined to testify on the merits the ALJ found the
evidence before her to be sufficient to find [Mr. Sanner] in violation of [§
16.205.1 of the Maryland Transportation Article].
“This Court finds that there was insufficient evidence before the ALJ to make
such a finding. Specifically, a motor vehicle accident involving two vehicles
could result from one driver’s fault, the other driver’s fault, or no one’s fault.
There is nothing in the DR 15 (A) supporting that the accident was [Mr.
Sanner’s] fault, and it is only if the accident was [Mr. Sanner’s fault] that an
inference could be drawn, in combination with the odor of alcohol that there
were reasonable grounds to conclude that [Mr. Sanner] was under the influence
of alcohol or intoxicated. The strong smell of alcohol is [the] only evidence of
[Mr. Sanner] having consumed alcohol. It is not, by itself, probative on the
issue of whether [Mr. Sanner] was affected by alcohol.
“The Court also finds the ALJ’s determination to draw sufficient inferences
from the available evidence arbitrary and capricious, in light of the fact that the
ALJ had previously stated that she needed more evidence in the form of
Trooper Clinton’s testimony. Although the ALJ did specifically state on
October 3, 2007 that [Mr. Sanner’s] no action request would not necessarily
succeed even if Trooper Clinton did not appear, the inconsistency between her
need for his testimony on October 3, 2007 and her conclusion that she did not
need it on December 10, 2007 remains unresolved.
“For the foregoing reasons, it is hereby
“ORDERED, that the Motor Vehicle Administration’s Conclusion of Law of
December 10, 2007 that the Petitioner had violated Transportation Article §16-
205.1 of the Maryland Code Annotated be and the same is hereby
REVERSED.”
As we have noted above, the MVA filed a petition for writ of certiorari seeking review
of the Circuit Court’s decision and we granted the petition. We shall now reverse.
II. Standard of Review
In Maryland Aviation Admin. v. Noland, 386 Md. 556, 873 A.2d 1145 (2005), Judge
-8-
Eldridge, writing for the Court, explicated the proper standard of review of an adjudicatory
decision by an administrative agency, stating:
“A court’s role in reviewing an administrative agency adjudicatory decision is
narrow; it ‘is limited to determining if there is substantial evidence in the record
as a whole to support the agency’s findings and conclusions, and to determine
if the administrative decision is premised upon an erroneous conclusion of law.’
“ In applying the substantial evidence test, a reviewing court decides ‘whether
a reasoning mind reasonably could have reached the factual conclusion the
agency reached.’ A reviewing court should defer to the agency’s fact-finding
and drawing of inferences if they are supported by the record. A reviewing
court ‘must review the agency’s decision in the light most favorable to it; . . .
the agency’s decision is prima facie correct and presumed valid, and . . . it is the
agency’s province to resolve conflicting evidence’ and to draw inferences from
that evidence.
“Despite some unfortunate language that has crept into a few of our opinions,
a court’s task on review is not to ‘substitute its judgment for the expertise of
those persons who constitute the administrative agency.’ Even with regard to
some legal issues, a degree of deference should often be accorded the position
of the administrative agency. Thus, an administrative agency’s interpretation
and application of the statute which the agency administers should ordinarily
be given considerable weight by reviewing courts. Furthermore, the expertise
of the agency in its own field should be respected.”
Id. at 571–72, 873 A.2d at 1154–55 (footnote omitted) (citations omitted) (emphasis omitted).
See Motor Vehicle Admin. v. Shea, 415 Md. 1, 14–15, 997 A.2d 768, 775–76 (2010); Motor
Vehicle Admin. v. Delawter, 403 Md. 243, 256–57, 941 A.2d 1067, 1076 (2008). See also
Section 10-222 (h) of the State Government Article, Maryland Code (1984, 2009 Repl. Vol.).7
7 Section 10-222(h) of the State Government Article, Maryland Code (1984, 2009
Repl. Vol.), provides that a court, upon judicial review of an administrative agency’s
decision, may take the following actions:
“(1) remand the case for further proceedings;
“(2) affirm the final decision; or
“(3) reverse or modify the decision if any substantial right of the petitioner
may have been prejudiced because a finding, conclusion, or decision:
-9-
III. Discussion
Section 16-205.1 of the Maryland Transportation Article, also known as Maryland’s
“implied consent” or “administrative per se” law, was enacted to reduce the incidence of
drunk driving and protect public safety. Motor Vehicle Admin. v. Richards, 356 Md. 356,
374, 739 A.2d 58, 68 (1999). See Shea, 415 Md. at 15, 997 A.2d at 776; Motor Vehicle
Admin. v. Shepard, 399 Md. 241, 255, 923 A.2d 100, 108 (2007); Motor Vehicle Admin.
v. Jones, 380 Md. 164, 178–79, 844 A.2d 388, 396–97 (2004); Embrey v. Motor Vehicle
Admin., 339 Md. 691, 697, 664 A.2d 911, 914 (1995); Motor Vehicle Admin. v. Vermeersch,
331 Md. 188, 194, 626 A.2d 972, 975 (1993); Motor Vehicle Admin. v. Chamberlain, 326
Md. 306, 313, 604 A.2d 919, 922 (1992). In order to further this goal, § 16-205.1 (a) (2)
authorizes the detention of any individual who is suspected of “driving or attempting to drive
while under the influence of alcohol.” Probable cause to arrest is not necessary before
requesting that a driver take a test to determine alcohol concentration. Richards, 356 Md. at
368 n.7, 739 A. 2d at 64 n.7. All that is required is “reasonable grounds,” on the part of the
police officer, “to believe [that] the individual was driving or attempting to drive while under
the influence of alcohol or drugs or both.” Id.
This Court previously held that “the term, ‘reasonable grounds, as used in § 16-205.1
“(i) is unconstitutional;
“(ii) exceeds the statutory authority or jurisdiction of the final decision
maker;
“(iii) results from an unlawful procedure;
“(iv) is affected by any other error of law;
“(v) is unsupported by competent, material, and substantial evidence in
light of the entire record as submitted; or
“(vi) is arbitrary or capricious.”
-10-
means ‘reasonable articulable suspicion’ and not preponderance of the evidence or probable
cause.” Shepard, 399 Md. at 254, 923 A.2d at 107. Our cases make clear that this standard
is met when a police officer detects a strong odor of alcohol, combined with other signs of
impairment. See, e.g., Id. at 246, 923 A.2d at 102–103 (strong odor of alcohol on driver’s
breath combined with speeding, bloodshot eyes, a preliminary breath test result of .10, and the
driver’s admission that he drank two beers established reasonable grounds); Illiano, 390 Md.
at 268–69, 888 A.2d at 331–32 (strong odor of alcohol coming from vehicle combined with
driver’s statements and performance on field sobriety tests established reasonable grounds);
Atterbeary, 368 Md. at 484–85, 796 A.2d at 78 (strong odor of alcohol on driver combined
with slurred speech, bloodshot eyes, and failed sobriety tests established reasonable grounds).
In this case, Trooper Clinton’s detection of a “strong odor of an alcoholic beverage
emitting from the person and breath of Mr. Sanner,” combined with the undisputed fact that
Mr. Sanner was the driver of one of the vehicles involved in an accident more than meets the
standard of reasonable suspicion that the statute and our case law require. Not only does the
Circuit Court’s statement that “the strong smell of alcohol is [the] only evidence of Mr.
Sanner having consumed alcohol and not probative on the issue of whether Mr. Sanner was
affected by alcohol,” directly contradict what this Court said in Amalgamated Transit Union,
Div. 1300 v. Mass Transit Admin., 305 Md. 380, 393, 504 A.2d 1132, 1138 (1986), that “[a] sufficiently strong odor of alcohol on the motorist’s breath can furnish reasonable grounds”
to “request or require an individual to take a chemical test for alcohol [under 16-205.1],” it’s
fault/no-fault based definition of “reasonable grounds” imposes a requirement that cannot be
-11-
supported by either the plain language of §16-205.1 or this Court’s precedents.
There also is no merit to the Circuit Court’s finding that the “ALJ’s determination to
draw sufficient inferences from the available evidence [was] arbitrary and capricious, in light
of the fact that the ALJ had previously stated [at the October 3, 2007 hearing] that she needed
more evidence in the form of Trooper Clinton’s testimony.” The following transpired
immediately after the respondent’s Counsel moved for a “no action disposition” at the initial
hearing:
“[ALJ]: All right. Since counsel has challenged an issue that was brought up by
the MVA concerning the evidence of use of alcohol other than alcohol odor I
would not be granting you a no action on this basis but instead I will grant the
MVA’s request for subpoena for the officer to appear.
“[Respondent’s Counsel]: Just for the record, I’m totally not totally clear of the
answer. I would object to whether you have the ability to do that but I’m not
going to argue the point.
“[ALJ] We’re in… I have three choices… I may accept exclusively the entire
proffer denying the subpoena request which would be that if you [Respondent’s
counsel], on behalf of the Licensee [Mr. Sanner], were to make a proffer that
there was nothing other than the odor alcohol and you’re making the proffer,
not the MVA, you’re making the proffer and that there’s nothing there but the
odor of alcohol and that’s your proffer and I believe when I subpoena the police
officer this police officer will testify the officer had nothing but an odor of
alcohol, that’s all he had to go on before he went through the process of asking
for Advice of Rights and then taking of the blood test or a breathalyzer. I can
deny the subpoena request; accept all the evidence before me, including the
proffer and under this option, if I determine that the proffer is assumed true in
its entirety and it’s sufficient to rebut the conflicting evidence then you win
without the need for the subpoena for the police officer. That would be option
A.
“Option B. I can reject the proffer as a whole, also denying the subpoena
request but if I do that I must provide additionally a valid explanation for my
rejection and this will enable me to dispose of otherwise improper subpoena
requests. So you make the proffer and if … I think there’s more than sufficient
-12-
ruling without the officer being present.
“Or third, and this is where I am. Third and it says, an uncertainty of accuracy
of the driver’s proffer. Now you’ve made no real proffer. The MVA’s made a
subpoena request and the proffer in the subpoena request is that we believe that
the evidence of use of alcohol may not be enough for you, Administrative Law
Judge, to make a decision in this case. Counsel is actually agreeing with the
MVA on this point. I’m saying I think you’re both right. How about that?
“[Respondent’s Counsel] There you go.
“[ALJ]: So I am going to suspend judgment, make no decision. I believe that
I do need some additional information in order to make a determination. And
for those reasons I will postpone… Continue the matter; subpoena the police
officer for the officer to testify.
* * *
“[ALJ] If the officer does not appear for whatever reason which does indeed
happen from time to time it would not necessarily mean that it will result in a
no action being granted.
“Okay. What I’ve written here is you’ve made the reasonable grounds argument
that there was no reasonable grounds to establish that Mr. Sanner was under the
influence of impaired by alcohol, that the DR15(a) only notes the odor of
alcohol nothing else. I agreed. Because the MVA did request a subpoena on this
issue I’ve continued the matter to subpoena [Trooper Clinton]. I’ve noted that
there’s been no testimony taken in this case and because there’s been no
testimony I have not made a … I’ve held in abeyance my decision making and
so if the officer doesn’t show up it doesn’t necessarily mean a no action will
result.”
(Emphasis added).
The record illustrates that the ALJ did not state that she would grant the respondent’s
“no action” request if Trooper Clinton failed to appear, or that she needed Trooper Clinton’s
testimony before proceeding to make findings based on the documentary evidence before her.
Her statement “I agreed” is ambiguous, at best. That is especially so when that statement is
-13-
considered along with her statements, made both before – “If the officer does not appear for
whatever reason which does indeed happen from time to time it would not necessarily mean
that it will result in a no action being granted” – and after – “I’ve held in abeyance my
decision making and so if the officer doesn’t show up it doesn’t necessarily mean a no action
will result” – the “I agreed” statement, indicating that the trooper’s failure to appear would
not be dispositive of whether a no action finding would be made. Apart from the context, on
one hand, “I agreed” could have meant that she initially agreed with the respondent’s counsel,
that there were no reasonable grounds to conclude that the respondent was under the influence
of alcohol or intoxicated; on the other hand, it simply could have meant that the she “agreed”
to postpone the hearing because the MVA did, in fact, request a subpoena for Trooper
Clinton. This ambiguity, which easily could have been explored by the respondent’s counsel
at any point during the rescheduled hearing simply was not pursued. Instead, the respondent
chose not to testify at the hearing and, more important, when offered the opportunity to do so,
he did not proffer any evidence, or argument, that would have undermined the MVA’s
documentary evidence. We are satisfied from these facts that the ALJ’s decision to make
findings based on the documentary evidence before her was neither “arbitrary” nor
“capricious.”
JUDGMENT OF THE CIRCUIT COURT FOR
CARROLL COUNTY REVERSED; CASE
REMANDED TO THAT COURT WITH
D IR E C T IO N S TO A F F IRM THE
JUDGMENT OF THE MOTOR VEHICLE
ADMINISTRATION. COSTS TO BE PAID BY
THE RESPONDENT.
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-15-

Moderate Odor of Alcohol gives office reasonable grounds to investigate the driver of impairment. Case below. 

Motor Vehicle Administration v. James Robert Spies, No. 73, September Term, 2012.

Opinion by Bell, C.J. (Retired)

 

ADMINISTRATIVE LAW AND PROCEDURE–JUDICIAL REVIEW

 

: The Court of Appeals held that substantial evidence supported administrative law judge’s

determination that police officer possessed reasonable grounds to request an alcohol

content test under Transportation Article § 16-205, where record contained evidence that

the moderate odor of alcohol emanated from breath of motorist.

IN THE COURT OF APPEALS

OF MARYLAND

No. 73

September Term, 2012

MOTOR VEHICLE ADMINISTRATION

v.

JAMES ROBERT SPIES, III

Barbera, C.J.

Harrell

Battaglia

Greene

Adkins

McDonald

*Bell

JJ.

Opinion by Bell, C.J. (Retired)

Filed: December 23, 2013

*Bell, C. J., now retired, participated in the

hearing and conference of this case while an

active member of this Court; after being

recalled pursuant to the Constitution, Article IV,

Section 3A, he also participated in the decision

and adoption of this opinion.

We granted certiorari in this case to consider whether a moderate odor of alcohol

emanating from the person of a motorist, alone, provides an adequate basis for a law

enforcement officer to suspect that the motorist was driving while under the influence of,

or impaired by, alcohol and, therefore, constitutes “reasonable grounds,” pursuant to

Maryland Code (1977, 2009 Repl. Vol., 2011 Cum. Supp.) § 16-205.1(b)(2) of the

Transportation Article,

1 to request the motorist to take an alcohol content test. For

1

Maryland Code (1977, 2009 Repl. Vol., 2011 Cum. Supp.) § 16–205.1(b)(2) of

the Transportation Article provides:

“(2) Except as provided in subsection (c) of this section, if a police officer

stops or detains any person who the police officer has reasonable grounds to

believe is or has been driving or attempting to drive a motor vehicle while

under the influence of alcohol, while impaired by alcohol, while so far

impaired by any drug, any combination of drugs, or a combination of one or

more drugs and alcohol that the person could not drive a vehicle safely, while

impaired by a controlled dangerous substance, in violation of an alcohol

restriction, or in violation of § 16–813 of this title, and who is not unconscious

or otherwise incapable of refusing to take a test, the police officer shall:

“(i) Detain the person;

“(ii) Request that the person permit a test to be taken;

“(iii) Advise the person of the administrative sanctions that shall

be imposed for test results indicating an alcohol concentration

of at least 0.08 but less than 0.15 at the time of testing;

“(iv) Advise the person of the administrative sanctions,

including ineligibility for modification of a suspension or

issuance of a restrictive license unless the person participates in

the Ignition Interlock System Program under § 16–404.1 of this

title, that shall be imposed for refusal to take the test and for test

results indicating an alcohol concentration of 0.15 or more at the

time of testing; and

“(v) Advise the person of the additional criminal penalties that

may be imposed under § 27–101(x) of this article on conviction

of a violation of § 21–902 of this article if the person knowingly

refused to take a test arising out of the same circumstances as

the violation.”

reasons provided below, we answer that question in the affirmative and reverse the

judgment of the Circuit Court for Queen Anne’s County.

On September 4, 2011, at approximately 1 A.M., the respondent, James Robert

Spies, III, was observed by Maryland State Trooper Brad Hall (“Trooper Hall”) to have

“fail[ed] to obey [a] traffic control device” while driving on Main Street in Grasonville,

Maryland. Trooper Hall pulled the respondent’s vehicle over and, upon approaching the

vehicle, detected a “moderate odor of an alcoholic beverage on [the respondent’s]

breath.” Trooper Hall’s request that the respondent submit to a standard field sobriety

test (“SFST”) was refused. Trooper Hall placed the respondent under arrest and

transported him to the Maryland State Troopers Barracks in Centreville, Maryland. Once

there, Trooper Hall, pursuant to Maryland Code §16-205.1 (a)(2)

2 of the Transportation

Article, requested that the respondent submit to a blood alcohol content test. After being

advised, through the MVA’s DR–15 “Advice of Rights” form,

3 of the consequences of

2

Pursuant to Maryland Code § 16-205.1(a)(2) of the Transportation Article:

“Any person who drives or attempts to drive a motor vehicle on a highway or

on any private property that is used by the public in general in this State

deemed to have consented, subject to the provisions of §§ 10-302 through 10-

309, inclusive, of the Courts and Judicial Proceedings Article, to take a test if

the person should be detained on suspicion of driving or attempting to drive

while under the influence of alcohol, while impaired by alcohol, while so far

impaired by any drug, any combination of drugs, or a combination of one or

more drugs and alcohol that the person could not drive a vehicle safely, while

impaired by a controlled dangerous substance, in violation of an alcohol

restriction, or in violation of § 16-813 of this title.”

3

See Motor Vehicle Admin. v. Atterbeary, 368 Md. 480, 485 n.1, 796 A.2d 75, 78

n.1 (2002), for a discussion of the office and purpose of the Form DR–15.

2

refusing or failing a chemical test for alcohol, and, pursuant to § 16-205.1(b),

4 the

administrative sanctions attendant to the taking or refusing of a test for alcohol content,

the respondent refused to take that test, as a consequence of which he was subjected to a

120 day suspension of his driver’s license for the first offense. On September 23, 2011,

4

Maryland Code §16-205.1(b) of the Transportation Article provides, in relevant

part:

“(b)(1) Except as provided in subsection (c) of this section, a person may not

be compelled to take a test. However, the detaining officer shall advise the

person that, on receipt of a sworn statement from the officer that the person

was so charged and refused to take a test, or was tested and the result indicated

an alcohol concentration of 0.08 or more, the Administration shall:

“(i) In the case of a person licensed under this title:

“1. Except as provided in item 2 of this item, for

a test result indicating an alcohol concentration of

0.08 or more at the time of testing:

“A. For a first offense, suspend the

driver’s license for 45 days; or

“B. For a second or subsequent

offense, suspend the driver’s license for

90 days;

“2. For a test result indicating an alcohol

concentration of 0.15 or more at the time of

testing:

“A. For a first offense, suspend the

driver’s license for 90 days; or

“B. For a second or subsequent

offense, suspend the driver’s license for

180 days; or

“3. For a test refusal:

“A. For a first offense, suspend the

driver’s license for 120 days; or

“B. For a second or subsequent

offense, suspend the driver’s license for

1 year[.]”

3

the respondent requested, and was granted, an administrative show-cause hearing

pursuant to §16-205.1(f),

5 to challenge the MVA’s suspension of his driver’s license.

On December 8, 2011, the respondent appeared before Administrative Law Judge

Charles Boutin (“ALJ”).

6 The ALJ admitted into evidence, without objection, a

continuation letter received by the respondent, two copies of Trooper Hall’s certification

order of suspension, a photocopy of the respondent’s driver’s license, and the DR-15

advice of rights form signed by both Trooper Hall and the respondent. The respondent

5

Section 16-205.1(f) provides, in relevant part:

“Notice and hearing on refusal to take test; suspension of license or privilege

to drive; disqualification from driving commercial vehicles. —

“(1) Subject to the provisions of this subsection, at the time of, or within 30

days from the date of, the issuance of an order of suspension, a person may

submit a written request for a hearing before an officer of the Administration

if:

“(i) The person is arrested for driving or attempting to

drive a motor vehicle while under the influence of

alcohol, while impaired by alcohol, while so far impaired

by any drug, any combination of drugs, or a combination

of one or more drugs and alcohol that the person could

not drive a vehicle safely, while impaired by a controlled

dangerous substance, in violation of an alcohol

restriction, or in violation of § 16-813 of this title; and

“(ii)(1).There is an alcohol concentration

of 0.08 or more at the time of testing; or

“(2)The person refused to take a test.”

6

Trooper Hall did not appear at the hearing and the MVA was not represented at the

hearing. Instead, it submitted a packet of documents, which included: the MVA’s transmittal

form of the respondent’s file to the agency; a continuation letter sent to the respondent on

September 28, 2011; the Trooper’s certification order of suspension; a photocopy of the

respondent’s driver’s license; the advice of rights form, DR-15, which was checked “known”

and signed by the respondent and the Trooper; a receipt for $125.00; an illegible second copy

of the Trooper’s certification DR-15A; the respondent’s request for a hearing.

4

contended that he obeyed the traffic control device, and, as a result, Trooper Hall lacked

“reasonable grounds” to stop him or request the field sobriety tests. The respondent

conceded that the odor of alcohol emanating from his breath provided a sufficient basis

for Trooper Hall to conclude that he had used alcohol and, consequently, to permit him to

investigate further. The respondent denied, however, that it was enough to suspect him of

having been under the influence. Thus, relying on Blasi v. State, 167 Md.App. 483, 893

A.2d 1152, cert. denied, 393 Md. 245, 900 A.2d 751 (2006), the petitioner contended that

the MVA failed to establish that Trooper Hall had a basis for suspecting that the admitted

use of alcohol impaired his driving. Arguing,

7 therefore, that the MVA failed to meet its

burden, he requested that the ALJ take no action.

The ALJ denied the respondent’s request and affirmed the respondent’s 120-day

suspension, concluding that the MVA’s evidence outweighed the respondent’s evidence

and arguments. The ALJ specifically found:

7

Blasi is inapposite. 167 Md.App. 483, 893 A.2d 1152. One of the issues in that case

was whether the police officer had probable cause to stop the defendant, id. at 493, 893 A.2d

at 1158, not whether he had reasonable suspicion to suspect that the defendant was driving

while intoxicated or under the influence and, thus, grounds to request that the defendant take

a test for alcohol content. The tests are decidedly different. In any event, we have rejected

a “fault/no fault” approach to the resolution of the latter question. In Motor Vehicle Admin.

v. Sanner, 434 Md. 20, 73 A.3d 214 (2013), the Circuit Court for Carroll County applied that

approach, which we rejected, explaining: “[the Circuit Court’s] fault/no-fault based definition

of ‘reasonable grounds’ imposes a requirement that cannot be supported by either the plain

language of § 16–205.1 or this Court’s precedents.” Id. at 33–34, 73 A.3d at 222.

The respondent also attacked Trooper Hall’s credibility, contending that he had a

vested interest in making arrests and “prosecuting cases.” The respondent further alleged

that Trooper Hall’s observations on the MVA form were inconsistent with his statements in

the police report. The police report, however, was not included in the record.

5

“[T]here’s more than sufficient information from a reasonable articulable

suspicion point of view. We have a violation of a traffic device, we have

moderate odor of alcohol, we have a licensee who flat out says, ‘I’m not

going to take the field sobriety tests,’ and then he’s advised and he refused

to take the test.”

On December 19, 2011, the respondent filed in the Circuit Court for Queen Anne’s

County a petition for judicial review of the administrative decision. Relying on Ferris v.

State, 355 Md. 356, 735 A.2d 491 (1999), he asserted that the ALJ erred in his assessment

of the sufficiency of the proffered indicia of alcohol use; the respondent’s alleged failure

to obey a traffic control device, the moderate smell of alcohol, and the respondent’s

refusal to take the field sobriety tests, he argued, were insufficient to establish

“reasonable grounds” for a request to take an alcohol content test. The MVA responded

that Ferris, a criminal case, is inapposite

8 and that, pursuant to Motor Vehicle Admin. v.

Shea, 415 Md. 1, 14–15, 997 A.2d 768, 775–76 (2010) (quoting Motor Vehicle Admin.

V. Delawter, 403 Md. 243, 256–57, 941 A.2d 1067, 1076 (2008)), the Circuit Court

should give deference to Trooper Hall’s observations, his statements, and the negative

inference Trooper Hall drew from the respondent’s initial refusal to take the field sobriety

tests.

8

In Ferris v. State, 355 Md. 356, 735 A.2d 491 (1999), we considered whether an

operator of a motor vehicle is seized within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment when he

is asked to get out of his car for questioning after a traffic stop is completed, and if so,

whether the seizure was supported by reasonable suspicion. We concluded that the stop was

a seizure within contemplation of the Fourth Amendment, and that the seizure was not

supported by reasonable suspicion. Id. at 387, 735 A.2d at 507. At issue there was whether

Ferris was in possession of a controlled substance with the intent to distribute. The question

of the effect of an odor of alcohol, in any degree, was not an issue.

6

The Circuit Court rejected the MVA’s arguments. Concluding that, based on the

totality of the circumstances, the MVA failed to establish “reasonable grounds” to suspect

the respondent of driving while under the influence and, then to request that he take the

test, it reversed the ALJ’s decision. The Circuit Court determined that the record, which

lacked documentation specifying the nature of the respondent’s traffic control device

violation, did not contain substantial evidence in support of the ALJ’s findings and

conclusions. Observing that the question of whether “the moderate odor of alcohol

alone” is enough for law enforcement to reasonably suspect a person of driving under the

influence or while impaired by the use of alcohol was left open by Shea, 415 Md. at

19–20, 997 A.2d at 779, the Circuit Court ruled:

“It is well-established that a low level of suspicion is required in a

‘reasonable grounds’ analysis. That being said, the record, as it was

presented to the ALJ, was deplete of any sufficient indicia of alcohol use,

namely because the failure to obey a traffic control device, the moderate

smell of alcohol, and Petitioner’s refusal to submit to a SFST, without

more, simply do not rise to the level of ‘reasonable grounds,’ as articulated

in this State’s case law.”

On July 30, 2012, the MVA filed, pursuant to Md. Code (1974, 2006 Repl. Vol.) §

12-305 of the Courts & Judicial Proceedings Article,

9 a petition for writ of certiorari,

9

Maryland Code (1974, 2006 Repl. Vol.) § 12-305 of the Courts and Judicial

Proceedings Article provides:

“Certification of decisions to Court of Appeals for reviews and determination.

“The Court of Appeals shall require by writ of certiorari that a decision be

certified to it for review and determination in any case in which a circuit court

has rendered a final judgment on appeal from the District Court or has

rendered a final judgment on appeal from an administrative decision under

Title 16 of the Transportation Article if it appears to the Court of Appeals,

upon petition of a party that:

“(1) Review is necessary to secure uniformity of

7

which we granted on October 19, 2012. Motor Vehicle Admin. v. Spies, 429 Md. 81, 54

A.3d 759 (2012). The issue presented by the petition, and for which we granted “cert”,

was whether a “‘moderate odor’ of alcohol alone may have been enough to permit [the

trooper] to suspect that [the driver] was driving while under the influence of or impaired

by alcohol,” and, therefore, may constitute “reasonable grounds” to request that a

motorist take an alcohol content test pursuant to Transportation Article § 16-205.1(b)(2).

In applying § 16-205.1, we do not “write on a clean slate” and must consider the

guidance contained in our earlier cases. Shea, 415 Md. at 15, 997 A.2d at 776. In Motor

Vehicle Admin. v. Sanner, 434 Md. 20, 27, 73 A.3d 214, 218 (2013), we considered a

similar issue to the one in the case sub judice: whether an arresting officer who detected

“a strong odor of alcoholic beverage emitting from person and breath” of a motorist, who

had been involved in an accident, had reasonable grounds to request the test pursuant to §

16-205.1(b)(2). The principle difference between the dispositive question in Sanner and

the dispositive question in the present case is that, in Sanner, the question was premised

on there being a “strong” odor of alcohol, whereas here, the arresting officer only

detected a “moderate” odor of alcohol. As we shall see, this distinction is immaterial.

In Sanner, we relied on Amalgamated Transit Union, Div. 1300 v. Mass Transit

Admin.

, 305 Md. 380, 393, 504 A.2d 1132, 1138 (1986), for the proposition that “[a]

decision, as where the same statute has been construed

differently by two or more judges; or

“(2) There are other special circumstances rendering it

desirable and in the public interest that the decision be

reviewed.”

8

sufficiently strong odor of alcohol on the motorist’s breath can furnish reasonable

grounds” to “request or require an individual to take a chemical test for alcohol [under

16–205.1].” 434 Md. at 33–34, 73 A.3d at 222. In reaching our ultimate conclusion, we

stated:

“Section 16–205.1 of the Maryland Transportation Article, also known as

Maryland’s ‘implied consent’ or ‘administrative per se’ law, was enacted to

reduce the incidence of drunk driving and protect public safety. Motor

Vehicle Admin. v. Richards, 356 Md. 356, 374, 739 A.2d 58, 68 (1999).

See Shea, 415 Md. at 15, 997 A.2d at 776; Motor Vehicle Admin. v.

Shepard

, 399 Md. 241, 255, 923 A.2d 100, 108 (2007); Motor Vehicle

Admin. v. Jones, 380 Md. 164, 178–79, 844 A.2d 388, 396–97 (2004);

Embrey v. Motor Vehicle Admin., 339 Md. 691, 697, 664 A.2d 911, 914

(1995); Motor Vehicle Admin. v. Vermeersch, 331 Md. 188, 194, 626 A.2d

972, 975 (1993); Motor Vehicle Admin. v. Chamberlain, 326 Md. 306, 313,

604 A.2d 919, 922 (1992). In order to further this goal, § 16–205.1(a)(2)

authorizes the detention of any individual who is suspected of ‘driving or

attempting to drive while under the influence of alcohol.’ Probable cause to

arrest is not necessary before requesting that a driver take a test to

determine alcohol concentration. Richards

, 356 Md. at 368 n. 7, 739 A.2d at

64 n. 7. All that is required is ‘reasonable grounds,’ on the part of the police

officer, ‘to believe [that] the individual was driving or attempting to drive

while under the influence of alcohol or drugs or both.’ Id.

“This Court previously held that ‘the term, reasonable grounds, as used in §

16–205.1 means ‘reasonable articulable suspicion’ and not preponderance

of the evidence or probable cause.’ Shepard, 399 Md. at 254, 923 A.2d at

107. Our cases make clear that this standard is met when a police officer

detects a strong odor of alcohol, combined with other signs of impairment.

See, e.g., [i]d. at 246, 923 A.2d at 102–103 (strong odor of alcohol on

driver’s breath combined with speeding, bloodshot eyes, a preliminary

breath test result of .10, and the driver’s admission that he drank two beers

established reasonable grounds); Illiano, 390 Md. at 268–69, 888 A.2d at

331–32 (strong odor of alcohol coming from vehicle combined with driver’s

statements and performance on field sobriety tests established reasonable

grounds); Atterbeary, 368 Md. at 484–85, 796 A.2d at 78 (strong odor of

alcohol on driver combined with slurred speech, bloodshot eyes, and failed

sobriety tests established reasonable grounds).

9

“In this case, Trooper Clinton’s detection of a ‘strong odor of an alcoholic

beverage emitting from the person and breath of Mr. Sanner,’ combined

with the undisputed fact that Mr. Sanner was the driver of one of the

vehicles involved in an accident more than meets the standard of reasonable

suspicion that the statute and our case law require.”

Id. at 32–33, 73 A.3d at 221–22.

Motor Vehicle Admin. v. Shea, 415 Md. 1, 997 A.2d 768 (2010) is to similar

effect. In that case, we framed the question before the Court as follows:

“Does a police officer’s certification that a moderate odor of an alcoholic

beverage was of sufficient strength to suspect that a motorist was driving

while impaired by alcohol, along with subsequent field sobriety tests that led

to the driver’s arrest, allow an administrative law judge to find reasonable

grounds to request an alcohol content test under Transportation Article § 16-

205.1(b)(2), without application of Fourth Amendment standards to evaluate

the sufficiency of a police officer’s reasonable grounds?”

Id. at 12, 997 A.2d at 774. We observed that “reasonable grounds,” for the establishment

of which only a “low quantum of suspicion”

10 is required, id. at 20, 997 A.2d at 779, must

10

We explained:

“Reasonable suspicion is a ‘common sense, nontechnical conception that

considers factual and practical aspects of daily life and how reasonable and

prudent people act.’ Crosby v. State

, 408 Md. 490, 507, 970 A.2d 894, 903–04

(2009) (quoting Bost v. State

, 406 Md. 341, 356, 958 A.2d 356, 365 (2008)).

Reasonable suspicion requires less in the way of quantity and quality of

evidence than is required for probable cause, see Alabama v. White

, 496 U.S.

325, 330, 110 S. Ct. 2412, 2416, 110 L. Ed.2d 301, 308 (1990), ‘and it falls

considerably short of satisfying a preponderance of the evidence standard,’

United States v. Arvizu

, 534 U.S. 266, 274, 122 S.Ct. 744, 751, 151 L.Ed.2d

740, 750 (2002). Nevertheless, reasonable suspicion ‘embraces something

more than an inchoate and unparticularized suspicion or hunch,’ and the

determination ‘must be based on the totality of the circumstances.’ Crosby

,

 

408 Md. at 507, 970 A.2d at 904 (internal quotation marks and citation

omitted). The analysis requires courts to give appropriate deference to the

training and experience of the law enforcement officer and to the officer’s

ability to make reasonable inferences from his or her observations, based on

10

be considered in the context of the statute’s purpose, “to reduce the incidence of drunk

driving and to protect public safety by encouraging drivers to take alcohol concentration

tests.” Id. at 15, 997 A.2d at 776 (quoting Motor Vehicle Admin. v. Shepard, 399 Md.

241, 255, 923 A.2d 100, 108 (2007), in turn citing Motor Vehicle Admin. v. Richards, 356

Md. 356, 374, 739 Md. 58, 68 (1999)). Thus, we concluded that, while the “moderate

odor of alcohol alone may have been enough to permit [the officer] reasonably to suspect

that Respondent was driving while under the influence of or impaired by alcohol,” we did

not decide if it was in that case, “because the ALJ was permitted to infer, as he obviously

did, that Officer Phelps arrested Respondent because his performance on the [field

sobriety tests] suggested alcohol impairment.” Id. at 19–20, 997 A.2d at 779. Although

we left the question of the effect of a moderate odor of alcohol open, we emphasized that

“the statute [is] not meant to protect drivers” who are suspected of drunk driving. Id. at

15–16, 997 A.2d at 776 (quotations omitted). We also stated that the purpose of § 16-

205.1 is “to prevent unscrupulous or incompetent persons from engaging in the licensed

activity.” Id. at 16, 997 A.2d at 777 (quoting Richards, 356 Md. at 372–73, 739 A.2d at

67–8). “To accomplish that purpose, the Statute establishes an administrative process that

is ‘informal and summary in nature,’ [Richards, 356 Md.] at 376–77, 739 A.2d at 70,

thereby providing for ‘speedy Administrative sanctions [that] [] help the offender to

that training and experience. See id

.[] 408 Md. at 508, 970 A.2d at 904; accord

Arvizu

, 534 U.S. at 266, 122 S. Ct. at 750-51, 151 L. Ed.2d at 749-50.”

Motor Vehicle Admin. v. Shea, 415 Md. 1, 19, 997 A.2d 768, 778 (2010).

11

recognize the cause and effect relationship between the offense and the sanction which

would otherwise be weakened by lengthy delays in the court processes.”’ Motor Vehicle

Admin. v. Loane, 420 Md. 211, 229–30, 22 A.3d 833, 843–844 (2011) (quoting Motor

Vehicle Admin. v. Aiken, 418 Md. 11, 29, 12 A.3d 656, 666 (2011)).

Other decisions of this Court regarding § 16-205.1, and earlier versions of the

“implied consent” statute

, see 1989 Md. Laws, ch. 284; 1981 Md. Laws, ch. 244; 1969

Md. Laws, ch. 158, have expressly held that “a very slight odor of alcohol on the driver’s

breath,” with no other sign of intoxication, sufficed to raise a jury question “whether [the

motorist] was actually under the influence of intoxicating liquor in any degree[.]”

Singleton v. Roman, 195 Md. 241, 247, 72 A.2d 705, 707 (1950). We have also

recognized that “[a] sufficiently strong odor of alcohol on the motorist’s breath can furnish

reasonable grounds” to believe that the individual had been driving under the influence

and thus justify requesting the individual to undergo a breath test under § 16-205.1.

Amalgamated Transit Union, Div. 1300 v. Mass Transit Admin., 305 Md. 380, 393, 504

A.2d 1132, 1138 (1986); cf. State v. Werkheiser, 299 Md. 529, 531, 474 A.2d 898, 899

(1984). In the years following Amalgamated Transit Union, we have affirmed the

suspension of a driver’s license for refusal to take a chemical breath test under § 16-205.1

where the police officer’s suspicion of drunk driving was first prompted by what the ALJ

described as “a moderate odor of alcohol on [the driver‘s] breath.” Richards, 356 Md. at

360, 739 A.2d at 60; but see id. at 358–59, 739 A.2d at 60 (quoting unattributed text

characterizing the odor as “strong”).

12

Applying the above authorities to the present case, we now conclude that,

consistent with the purpose of 16.205.1, a “moderate odor” of alcohol alone is enough to

constitute “reasonable grounds,” i.e. is sufficient for a request to take an alcohol content

test. In the case sub judice, the “common sense” basis for “reasonable grounds” is that

Trooper Hall smelled a moderate odor of alcohol emanating from the respondent. See

Shea, 415 Md. at 19, 997 A.2d at 778. The odor of alcohol is one of the “practical aspects

of daily life,” and its detection is “how reasonable and prudent people” could come to

suspect that another person is under the influence of alcohol. Id. We have similarly held

that a trial court errs if it denies a jury the opportunity to consider such evidence to

determine whether the driver “was actually under the influence” of alcohol because

ordinary people are able to draw common sense inferences regarding possible intoxication

from even a “slight odor of alcohol on the driver’s breath.” Singleton, 195 Md. at 247, 72

A.2d at 707. Consequently, we conclude that Trooper Hall’s detection of a moderate odor

of alcohol on the respondent’s breath amounts to “more than an inchoate and

unparticularized suspicion or hunch,” and does indeed satisfy the “low quantum of

suspicion necessary for ‘reasonable grounds.’” Shea, 415 Md. at 20, 997 A.2d at 779.

For these reasons, we conclude that the ALJ’s legal determination was based upon

the correct application of Maryland law, and that there existed substantial evidence in the

record to support the ALJ’s finding that Trooper Hall met the requirements of §

16-205.1(a)(2). We therefore reverse the decision of the Circuit Court.

13

JUDGMENT OF THE CIRCUIT COURT FOR

QUEEN ANNE’S COUNTY REVERSED.

CASE REMANDED TO THAT COURT WITH

DIRECTION TO AFFIRM THE JUDGMENT

O F T H E M O T O R V E H I C L E

ADMINISTRATION. COSTS TO BE PAID

BY THE RESPONDENT.

14