The topic of driving under the influence has been very much in the public eye recently. First, there was the issue facing the U.S. Supreme Court regarding whether or not warrantless, nonconsensual blood draws in cases of suspected DUIs are legal (by the way, the Supreme Court ruled they are not). Then, with some states legalizing the use of marijuana, there have been questions about the impact that change would have on DUIs. Recently, there has also been the question of how states can legally prove a driver’s intoxication when it comes to marijuana.
One indication of how things might be playing out in the legal realm is the recent ruling in a California marijuana DUI case. The following story, “California Marijuana DUI Case Results in Victory for USC Student and MacGregor & Collins Attorneys”, was reported in the San Francisco Gate. The case centered on a female student (a senior) at USC who was accused of driving while intoxicated (under the influence of marijuana) back in December of 2011. Court documents showed that the defendant had roughly 8 NG/ML of active THC in her blood at the time of arrest, according to the article. THC stands for tetrahydrocannabinol and is the main chemical responsible for the psychological effects (for example, euphoria) of marijuana.
The prosecution in this case argued that the defendant failed her sobriety test and was legally impaired while operating her vehicle. However, the defense argued that the THC levels did not impair the defendant’s ability to make safe driving decisions and maneuvers. The defense attorney, Randy Collins, showed the court evidence that the defendant could properly operate an automobile at the same level a sober person could; furthermore, he “challenged the subjective nature of the field sobriety tests, which he alleges are based primarily on a police officer’s observations.”
As humans, we all make mistakes. That’s why it’s important for tests to be based on as much science as possible rather than simple human observation. Tests based on observation are bound to be fraught with errors. After all, how you view someone could differ based on the type of day you’re having, if you are tired, etc.
Andy Collins had this to say: “There is a common belief that the use of Marijuana impairs a person’s ability to drive, but our research has found that the use of Marijuana effects different people in very different ways. Since there is no THC breathalyzer or other on-site detection device to determine whether the person in question has recently consumed Marijuana, or is currently under the influence of Marijuana, a tremendous amount of faith is placed on an officer’s ability to objectively evaluate results from field sobriety tests.”
Apparently, a jury agreed. According to court documents cited in the article, a verdict of 9 to 3 was found on behalf of the client.