DRIVING WHILE HIGH
Are you facing a marijuana DUI charge? The consequences of a conviction for driving while high, like those for an alcohol-related DUI, are harsh. They include loss of your license, thousands of dollars in fines, jail time, substance abuse classes, and more. Having the right lawyer can make all the difference in how your case turns out. If you were arrested after driving while high, call Feldman & Royle for a free consultation.
The starting point for a driving while high case is A.R.S. 28-1381. The statute says that it is illegal to drive
- (a) while under the influence of drugs or alcohol if you are impaired to the slightest degree, or
- (b) if there is any one of hundreds of drugs – or its metabolite – in your system. The question is what these provisions mean.
What is a Metabolite?
The dictionary defines “metabolite” as any substance produced by or involved with metabolism. For purposes of the DUI laws, it involves primarily the presence of one or another form of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in a person’s body, as shown by a blood, saliva or urine test. Reading the statute in a vacuum, you’d conclude that under the statute, the presence of THC would automatically signal a violation of the DUI statute. In fact, the Arizona Supreme Court has significantly limited that portion of the law.
State v. Harris
There are problems convicting a person of DUI based solely on the presence of a metabolite of marijuana in their body. First, some metabolites do not have the capacity to cause impairment. Second, some metabolites remain in the body for weeks, and even months, long after the possibility of impairment has passed. And since thousands of people use marijuana legally under the Medical Marijuana Act, a literal interpretation of the law would mean that those people (as wells as anyone else who uses marijuana) are effectively prohibited from driving a motor vehicle.
The interpretation of the “metabolite” provision of A.R.S. 28-1381 reached the Supreme Court of Arizona in 2014. The court held that the mere presence of a metabolite of marijuana, absent evidence of impairment, is insufficient to sustain a DUI charge. As a result, the issue in a marijuana DUI case becomes one of impairment. And the question is what that term means.
What Does the State Have to Prove to be Found Guilty of Driving While High?
Generally speaking, in a most DUIs, the State must prove your guilt, beyond a reasonable doubt. However, in a driving while high case, the burden of proof often shifts to the criminal defendant.
State v. Dobson
Those accused of driving while high that have a medical marijuana card (AMMA Card) often carry the burden of proof. If the State alleges that you are operating a motor vehicle while impaired by marijuana they must prove that the active THC impaired your ability to drive to “at least the slightest degree.” However, when the State alleges a violation of ARS 28-1381A3, in a marijuana case, the defendant has the burden of proving that the THC was “in a concentration insufficient to cause impairment.” This additional requirement demands the assistance of an experienced marijuana DUI lawyer.
Impairment “to the slightest degree”
After the Harris case, it became clear that to convict someone of driving while high, the prosecutor must provide evidence that the person was under the influence of marijuana, and that he or she was impaired. Typically, the evidence (other than the results of a chemical test) will come from the testimony of a police officer. The officer may say that your eyes were bloodshot, that you were unable to follow a light with your eyes, that you did not follow instructions, that your coordination was poor, or one of many other observations.
Most police officers, however, have little or no expertise in evaluating whether a person is impaired by marijuana, or any other drug for that matter. Even those who claim to be Drug Recognition Experts (DRE) often have little training in the area. A Phoenix DUI lawyer with experience defending those charged after driving while high, can often lessen the impact of such testimony, either through cross-examination or by countering with an expert for the defense.
At Feldman & Royle, we understand what needs to be done, and have significant experience representing those have been charged with DUI after driving while high. Contact us to schedule a free consultation.
Marijuana DUI Lawyer
If you were charged with driving while high, do not assume that your fate is sealed. Doing nothing or pleading guilty on your own is a mistake. While you may believe a conviction is a foregone conclusion, you could well be wrong. Indeed, without having your case reviewed by an experienced lawyer, you may be missing possible defenses to and holes in the prosecution’s case.
At Feldman & Royle, we understand what needs to be done, and we will fight to make sure your rights are protected. Contact us to schedule a free consultation.
FAQs – Driving While High
Can I get a DUI for driving while high on marijuana?
- Absolutely. The rate of arrests for marijuana related DUIs has skyrocketed in the United States. Most states, including Arizona, strictly enforce both alcohol and drug related DUIs.
Can I legally drive with marijuana in my system if I don’t have a medical card?
- No. Under Arizona law you are required to have a medical marijuana card before you can drive after smoking marijuana. However, even with a card you may still be prosecuted for DUI.
How long does marijuana stay in your system?
- The active portion of marijuana normally only stays in your systems for a period of several hours. However, non-active metabolites can stay in your system for weeks.
Do I have to get an ignition interlock if I’m convicted of driving while high?
- If the date of offense is after January 1, 2017 in Arizona, you are no longer required to have an interlock installed in your vehicle if convicted of a drug related DUI.
What’s the minimum punishment for driving while high as a first offense?
- 1 day in jail, roughly $2,000 in fines and fees, substance abuse counseling and a 90-day suspension of your driver’s license is the minimum punishment in Arizona.
Can you get a marijuana DUI if you only have an inactive metabolite in your system?
- The law in Arizona requires the State to prove that you have “active” THC of an impairing metabolite in your body at the time of driving.
Can police take my blood during a marijuana DUI without my consent?
- Yes. Under Arizona law, if police obtain a search warrant pursuant to probable cause they can legally take a blood sample without your consent.
How long does it take to get blood results back in a marijuana related DUI?
- Normally, results for drug toxicology are available after 3-6 months after your arrest.