ANNAPOLIS – A Washington County sheriff’s deputy should not have been allowed to testify that he believed a driver had a blood-alcohol content of .10, even though he never gave the man Breathalyzer test.
But the Court of Special Appeals refused to overturn the drunken driving conviction of Neil Eugene Martin — who failed three field sobriety tests, smelled of alcohol and was glassy- eyed when pulled over.
“The error below becomes a glass of water in a Niagara of evidence,” said Judge Gerard F. Devlin, in an opinion for a three-judge panel of the court.
Washington County Sheriff’s Deputy Daniel Henley stopped Martin’s car in September 1996, when he was driving at 62 mph in a 30-mph zone on Route 60 near Hagerstown.
When Henley approached the car, he noticed that Martin smelled of alcohol and had glassy eyes, according to court documents. Martin told Henley that he had had “a few beers.”
Henley made Martin take a series of field sobriety tests, which he failed. Martin was subsequently charged with driving under the influence.
At trial, the prosecutor asked Henley if he had an opinion as to whether Martin was drunk.
“I believe he was over a .10 blood-alcohol level,” the legal limit for intoxication, Henley said.
A Washington County Circuit Court jury convicted Martin of drunken driving and sentenced him to 30 days home detention on June 30.
Martin’s attorneys appealed on the grounds that Henley’s “opinion” about Martin’s blood-alcohol level prejudiced the jurors.
The appeals court agreed that Washington County Circuit Judge Frederick C. Wright III was wrong to allow the deputy’s comments about Martin’s blood-alcohol level. That would normally be grounds for a reversal, the court said.
But the appellate court affirmed the lower court’s decision, saying that Henley was qualified to give his opinion about Martin’s sobriety, especially since the smell of alcohol flowed from Martin and his car, he appeared drunk and failed other sobriety tests.
It noted that Henley had experience in drunken driving cases and had taken a 32-hour course in field sobriety tests.
“Any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt,” said the opinion.