The legalization of marijuana use in California has caused an increase in DUID (driving under the influence of a drug) cases. These are distinct from DUI cases involving alcohol. While the prosecution in a DUI case may charge a motorist with violating California Vehicle Code § 23152(b) (driving with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .08 or higher), there is no analogous statute for drug or marijuana content in an individual’s body. In effect, the prosecution must prove that the motorist was under the influence of marijuana without relying on the results of any chemical testing.
California Vehicle Code § 23152(f) makes it a criminal offense to drive while under the influence of a drug. California Vehicle Code § 23152(g) makes it unlawful for a person who is under the combined influence of any alcoholic beverage and drug to drive a vehicle.
Drunk driving cases under § 23152(b) largely rely on alcohol blood, breath, and urine tests to determine whether a driver is impaired by alcohol. However, when measuring THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the drug’s psychoactive ingredient, there are no tests to measure THC that are recognized by California law as the equivalent of the tests to measure alcohol.
Although some devices may exist that measure marijuana in a breath sample, so far, in the view of the California legislature, none has proven sufficient reliability for DUID cases. This is primarily because there is a lack of scientific evidence that reliably ties impairment to a specific test result.
Once a member of law enforcement suspects that a motorist is under the influence of marijuana, The officer may speak with the driver to help form an opinion that the driver is under the influence of marijuana, The officer may use objective evidence such as smell, physical symptoms of marijuana intoxication, or the motorist’s admission to using marijuana just before operating a motor vehicle.
If the officer believes that the motorist is impaired because of marijuana use, the officer may use a Drug Recognition Expert (“DRE”) officer to assist in the investigation. California puts DREs through specialized training to recognize the symptoms of drug intoxication. The DRE may ask the motorist to take a series of field sobriety tests specially formulated to measure impairment. The prosecution may use the notes of the investigating officers describing the motorist’s performance on the field sobriety tests as evidence of marijuana impairment.
After an arrest for DUID, the motorist will be asked to take a blood test since no breath test exists currently. The prosecution will try to use the results of this blood test to show the THC content in the accused’s blood sample. If the THC concentration is high, the prosecution will use this as additional evidence to prove the driver’s impairment.
THC remains in an individual’s system for a substantial time after the intoxicating effects have dissipated and worn off. As a result, and because there are few legally recognized tests to adequately measure THC concentration, the prosecution has a difficult burden to prove impairment beyond a reasonable doubt. An experienced criminal defense attorney can help you reach the best possible result in this situation, which may be an acquittal or, at least, a reduction of the DUID charge.
The Dolan Law Offices can answer your questions and provide valuable advice and service if you have been charged with driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. John Patrick Dolan has forty years of criminal defense experience. Contact Dolan Law Offices today at 760-775-3739 or 562-824-4007 to discuss your situation or find out more online here.