'It's a catch and release program': Maryland man arrested for 7th DUI in 5 years

    Montgomery County man arrested for seventh DUI charge in five years. (ABC7)

    Montgomery County authorities have arrested a man seven times for DUI in the last five years, and critics want to know why the court system continues to treat the motorist with "kid gloves."

    Ever since his first DUI in October 2014, Joel Rivera Rodriguez, 35, of Clarksburg, has managed to evade any significant amount of incarceration time.

    According to Maryland Judiciary Case Search, Rivera Rodriguez's six subsequent DUI arrests occurred in April 2016, September 2016, December 2016, February 2017, December 2018 and February 2019.

    The first three DUI arrests resulted in findings of guilt, minor fines and supervised court probation. The fourth DUI case was dropped for undisclosed reasons. The fifth, sixth and seventh DUI cases are still pending.

    In the December 2018 DUI, Rivera Rodriguez allegedly crashed into a curb along Ridge Road near the I-270 interchange in Germantown. When a Good Samaritan stopped to assist, Rivera Rodriguez backed into that driver's vehicle and sped away. After police caught Rivera Rodriguez, the 35-year-old reportedly claimed he left the scene because, "no one was hurt." He later bragged to officers about his defense attorney being a "beast" who'd be able to beat the drunk driving case.

    "People like this guy just have a complete disregard for the law, a complete disregard for the courts," one officer told ABC7, speaking on the condition of anonymity. "He knows the game, he knows nothing will happen to him."

    Unlike many other states, Maryland does not book DUI suspects in jail. Instead, officers arrest the driver, transport them to the local police precinct or district station where they conduct further testing and fill out paperwork. Suspects are then given their respective citations and released to a sober driver. If the arrest has a criminal element, however — say drugs or weapons are within the vehicle — a formal jail booking will occur.

    "It's a catch and release program," a different officer told ABC7, also speaking on the condition of anonymity. "Maryland treats guys like this with kid gloves."

    Yet, judges and court commissioners do have the power to enact bond against DUI defendants, particularly when drivers miss court dates or violate the terms of their probation. Court records show Rivera Rodriguez has done both such things on numerous occasion. Why then haven't the courts responded accordingly? The Maryland Judiciary explains policy precludes its judges and commissioners from speaking publicly about cases they hear.

    Rivera Rodriguez's most recent run in with the law happened Tuesday night. Police stopped a white Acura sedan with no license plates in Germantown. Rivera Rodriguez happened to be behind the wheel. Officers arrested the 35-year-old for driving without a valid license. He also had an active warrant for failing to appear in court. As of publication time, it was not clear what type of bond (if any) the court system levied against Rivera Rodriguez. In other words, he could be back out on the street tomorrow, thus allowing the cycle to continue.

    "This guy is one DUI away from killing somebody," added one of the two officers speaking on the condition of anonymity. "Someone has to have the guts to lock him up and throw away the key."

    This all comes in the wake of Noah's Law, named in honor of fallen Montgomery County Police officer Noah Leotta. A drunk driver hit and killed the young patrolman during a traffic stop along Rockville Pike in December 2015. In its simplest form, Noah's Law requires interlock devices be placed in vehicles registered to people convicted of drunk driving in Maryland. It does not appear, however, that Rivera Rodriguez owns the Acura sedan he was driving Tuesday night. Nothing, after all, is foolproof.

    Rivera Rodriguez is scheduled to appear in Montgomery County District Court on April 11 — and then again on May 2 — for two of his pending DUI cases. He missed his March 5, court appearance in the third DUI case, hence the warrant for this week's arrest.

    ABC7 will continue to follow this story, centering our focus on the elected judges entrusted to issue fair and appropriate sentences.

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