Legalization of Marijuana Leaves Police Struggling Over Motorists Driving Under the Influence

Driving while under the influence (DUI) is a widely understood problem and concern across the world. Drug intoxication leads to impaired judgment, slowed reaction time, memory loss, and other dangerous symptoms that make driving a dangerous hazard. That’s why every single state in the United States bans motorists from driving with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) above 0.08%.

Though alcohol-based offenses are the most common type of DUI, they are not the only kind. As states continue to legalize and decriminalize it, marijuana is rising as a concern and source for recent DUI offenses. Police and law enforcers are increasingly having to figure out to handle these cases in lieu of a BAC test.

About Marijuana and Expanding Legalization

Marijuana, also known as cannabis and weed, acts as both a depressant and stimulant. It’s commonly used for both medical and recreational purposes. Many medical users find that it reduces pain, improves appetite, and reduces chronic pain. Recreational users experience psychoactive and physiological effects that some deem a “mild euphoria.”

In recent years, many states have passed laws decriminalizing or legalizing (for medical reasons or not) the use of marijuana. It’s completely legal in four states, solely legal for medical uses in eight, legal medically and decriminalized in another eleven, and just decriminalized in five.

As a result, police departments, like the one in New Canaan, Connecticut, have seen a rise in the amount of “marijuana-related incidents” in the past year.

Driving Under the Influence of Marijuana

Though studies have found that driving under the influence of alcohol has significantly more severe effects on a motorist’s capacity to drive, marijuana is still a drug that impairs drivers. One study found that marijuana reduced drivers’ peripheral vision and gave them “tunnel vision.” Those with a certain level of THC, the principal psychoactive constituent of marijuana, in their system were found to weave more often within their driving line.

Additionally, the study found that combining marijuana with alcohol increased the effects of both drugs. Drivers affected by both started weaving in lanes at far lower levels of intoxication than those who had been intoxicated at higher levels of both. The presence of alcohol in the system also increased the THC’s absorption level, resulting in a more powerful “high” from the marijuana.

Legal and Police Action

Currently, seventeen states have “per se” laws that prohibit motorists from driving with certain levels of THC in their system. The rest feature other standards which are less defined in their handling of marijuana influence.

When it comes to alcohol intoxication, it’s much easier for police officers to administer a BAC test. With marijuana, it’s much trickier. Some police departments are experimenting with hiring “drug recognition experts” who can examine individual motorists on-scene to judge whether or not they are too under the influence to drive a vehicle.

As marijuana use rises as a result of legalization and decriminalization, law enforcement agencies hope to get a better handle on making the roads safe from those under the influence of any drug, not just alcohol.

New Texas Drunk Driving Statistics Revealed by MADD

Mothers Against Drunk Driving recently published a report that rates all 50 states’ efforts to end drunk driving fatalities and keep the public safe on the roads. MADD’s report uses a “five-star system to rate the states and encourage the adoption of proven countermeasures.”

The report is part of MADD’s Campaign To Eliminate Drunk Driving that it launched in 2006. The campaign is focused “on effective countermeasures already in place today, laws we can pass tomorrow, and future technologies to make cars safer.” MADD’s report is one part of its campaign that draws national attention to drunk driving and ways to eliminate drunk driving in America.

Five-Star Ranking System

To rate each state, MADD used five measures, include ignition interlocks, sobriety checkpoints, administrative license revocation, child endangerment, and no-refusal events. Each category was weighted evenly, and a state received a star for each measure fulfilled.

MADD describes alcohol ignition interlock devices as “the best proven countermeasure available to stop drunk driving.” According to figures, around 50% to 75% of convicted drunk drivers will drive even if their driver’s license has been suspended. A technology is also being developed, the Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety, which will be able to accurately detect when a driver is intoxicated with a BAC above the legal limit and will be able to prevent the car from moving.

Through sobriety checkpoints, MADD estimates that drunk driving fatalities are reduced by 20% and are effective at reducing drinking and driving. Finally, MADD believes that it is important to hold drivers accountable for their actions. One method is by imposing increased penalties for a drunk driving conviction with a child passenger in the vehicle. Another method is for states to develop a program whereby prosecutors and judges make themselves available to facilitate the warrant process in the event a driver refuses to submit to a blood or breath test.

Texas Receives Three-Star Rating from MADD

In MADD’s s report, Texas received only three stars for the state’s efforts to reduce fatalities and injuries caused by drunk driving. Texas received stars for the categories of administrative license revocation, child endangerment, and no-refusal events. Texas did not receive stars for its efforts to reduce drunk driving by instituting ignition interlocks or employing sobriety checkpoints. MADD commented that for Texas’s 2015 legislative session, the organization will be advocating for ignition interlocks on all convicted drunk drivers.

The states that received the fewest stars (one) were Rhode Island and Montana. Many states received stars in all categories, including Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Delaware, Illinois, Kansas, Maine, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Utah, Virginia, and West Virginia.

If Texas wants to improve its record for drunk driving accidents and deaths, it appears the state still has to institute significant reform. According to MADD, Texas led the nation in 2013 with 1,337 deaths caused by drunk drivers. And, MADD has criticized the Texas legislature for failing to take any steps to reduce the number of deaths caused by drunk drivers.

New Jersey To Retroactively Apply U.S. Supreme Court Decision Regarding DWI Warrants

In 2013, the United States Supreme Court’s ruling in Missouri v. McNeely issued an important decision protecting the rights of drivers and limiting the ability of police officers to draw blood from drivers without a warrant. In Missouri v. McNeely,an Missouri police officer stopped a driver for speeding and crossing the centerline. The driver declined a breath test to measure blood alcohol concentration and the officer took the driver to the hospital for blood testing. Notably, the officer never obtained a search warrant and had the hospital draw the driver’s blood, even after he refused.

The driver’s results tested above the legal limit and he was charged with a DWI. At trial, the driver moved to suppress the blood test results based on the argument that the taking violated his Fourth Amendment rights. The trial court agreed and suppressed the results. Eventually, the case made its way all the way up to the United States Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court ruled that the warrantless taking of the driver’s blood violated his Fourth Amendment rights. The Court held that there were no exigent circumstances that justified the taking of blood without first obtaining a warrant. In this regard, the Court held that “natural dissipation of alcohol in the bloodstream does not constitute an exigency in every case sufficient to justify conducting a blood test without a warrant.” As such, the taking of the driver’s blood without a warrant was improper.

New Jersey To Retroactively Apply to DWI Ruling

Following the Supreme Court’s decision in Missouri v. McNeely, many state courts have been issuing decisions suppressing blood test results that have been obtained without warrants. Recently, New Jersey’s Supreme Court ruled that the holding in Missouri v. McNeely applies not only to future DWI cases in the state, but also retroactively to any cases that had not been decided when the Supreme Court issued its opinion two years ago.

The New Jersey court’s decision in State v. Adkins involved the arrest of a driver suspected of DWI. The officer obtained a blood sample without the driver’s consent and without obtaining a warrant. The driver’s blood alcohol content was nearly double the legal limit. The driver moved to suppress the blood tests results. The trial court agreed and the appellate court reversed the decision.

The state’s supreme court, however, agreed with the trial court. Addressing the Supreme Court’s decision in McNeely, the court wrote: “The United States Supreme Court has pronounced the standard to be applied under the Fourth Amendment to warrantless searches involving blood draws of suspected DWI drivers and, under Supremacy Clause principles, we are bound to follow it as the minimal amount of constitutional protection to be provided.” The supreme court sent the decision back to the trial court to determine if the officer had probable cause to draw blood for emergency circumstances.

If you have questions regarding DWI laws, it is important to reach out to an experienced DWI attorney who can help you understand your legal rights.

Montgomery County To Increase Its Use of No Refusal Operations

Memorial Day weekend is notoriously one of the most active weekends for drivers operating vehicles under the influence of alcohol or drugs. For this reason, police officers are often out in full force on the roads to ensure that drivers are not operating vehicles while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. With the upcoming holiday and summer months, one county in Texas is significantly increasing its efforts to prevent drivers from driving under the influence.

Montgomery County to Use No Refusal Operations for 100 Days

Of the largest counties in Texas, Montgomery County had the highest fatality rate of drunk driving crashes in the state.To make the roads safer for drivers, Montgomery County is increasing no refusal operations and driving while intoxicated enforcement. The goal of the program is to prevent traffic crashes and deaths caused by intoxicated drivers. The program will occur for approximately 100 days between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

Under the no refusal operations, the process will occur as follows:

  • an officer makes a DWI/BWI arrest and asks the suspect for a breath or blood sample;
  • if the suspect refuses, the officer then meets with a prosecutor who will draft a search warrant for the suspect’s blood;
  • the warrant is sent to an on-call judge who will review the warrant for probable cause; and
  • if probable cause is found, a nurse will then take a sample of the DWI/BWI suspect’s blood.

In connection with the operations, there will be more law enforcement officials on the road to catch drivers. According to the Texas Department of Transportation, there were 24 DWI-related fatalities in the Montgomery County last year.

Texas’ Implied Consent Law

Texas has what is known as an “implied consent law.” Under Texas’ implied consent law, if a person is arrested for driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, the person is deemed to have consented “to submit to the taking of one or more specimens of the person’s breath or blood for analysis to determine the alcohol concentration or the presence in the person’s body of a controlled substance, drug, dangerous drug, or other substance.”

Before requesting a specimen, however, the officer must inform the person that refusal may be given, but that there are certain consequences. Notably, the officer must inform the person orally and in writing that:

  • Refusal may be admissible in prosecution;
  • Refusal will automatically result in the suspension of a person’s license for 180 days, regardless if the person is prosecuted as a result of the arrest;
  • The officer may apply for a warrant to take a specimen; and
  • The person has a right to a hearing on the suspension or denial within 15 days of receiving the notice of suspension denial.

If you have questions regarding the legalities of sobriety checkpoints in your state, you should reach out to an experienced DWI lawyer for help.

 

Minnesota Supreme Court Rules Ok To Charge People Who Refuse Breathalyzer Test

Under Minnesota law, it is a crime for a driver to refuse a request to take a chemical test to detect the presence of alcohol if certain conditions are met, including if the driver has been validly arrested for driving while impaired. Earlier this month, the Minnesota State Supreme Court ruled that Minnesota’s law does not violate one’s due process constitutional rights and upheld the validity of Minnesota’s refusal law.

The dispute over Minnesota’s law arose from 2012 incident involving three intoxicated men who were attempting to get a boat out of the water at a boat launch. Their truck apparently became stuck in the river while they were trying to pull out their boat. Police arrived at the scene and noticed that one man was in his underwear. The officers also could smell a strong odor of alcohol from the group. One man, William Robert Bernard, admitted that he had been drinking, but he and the other men denied driving the truck. Witnesses identified Bernard as the driver of the truck. The officers noted that Bernard smelled of alcohol, had bloodshot and watery eyes, and held the keys to the truck. Bernard refused to perform field sobriety tests.

The officers arrested Bernard on suspicion of driving while impaired. Officers advised Bernard that Minnesota law required him to take a chemical test and that it was a crime if he refused to take the test. Bernard refused to take the test and officers charged Bernard with two counts of first-degree test refusal.

Bernard Claimed Minnesota Law Violated Due Process Rights

Bernard challenged his arrest and claimed that Minnesota’s “test refusal statute violated due process because the statute makes it a crime to refuse an unreasonable, warrantless search of a driver’s breath.” The case eventually made it all the way up to Minnesota’s highest court.

The state’s supreme court rule that that it is ok to a charge people who refuse to take blood-alcohol tests. The court stated that the breath test the police asked Bernard to take “would have been constitutional as a search incident to a valid arrest, and as a result, charging Bernard with criminal test refusal does not implicate a fundamental right.”

Texas Refusal to Consent Law

Under Texas law, if a person is arrested and refuses to submit to the taking of a breath or blood specimen, then the state can:

(1) suspend the person’s license to operate a motor vehicle on a public highway for 180 days; or;
(2) if the person is a resident without a license, issue an order denying the issuance of a license to the person for 180 days.

If the person has one or more alcohol-related or drug-related enforcement contacts during the preceding 10 years of the arrest, then the period of suspension or denial is 2 years.

If you have any questions regarding Texas DWI laws, you should contact an experienced Texas DWI attorney.

DWI Ignition Interlocks In Texas and Possible Changes to the Law

According to a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration report, there were 1,336 drunk driving deaths throughout Texas in 2013. This number represents 39.5% of all traffic-related deaths throughout the state in 2013 and is a 3.6% increase from the prior year. Furthermore, there were 99,195 DUI arrests, which resulted in 71,030 DUI convictions in 2013.

DUI-related deaths and accidents are a significant problem throughout the country, and in particular, Texas. One tool that Texas and other states have used to reduce the number of accidents is to require the installation of ignition interlock devices on vehicles owned by DUI offenders.

Ignition Interlock Devices

An ignition interlock device is a small device that is wired into the ignition system of a vehicle and requires a driver to blow into the device to start the car. If the driver has alcohol in his system above a certain level then the vehicle will not start. The blood alcohol concentration threshold is usually set between 0.02 to 0.04 grams per deciliter (g/dL). Under Texas law (as well as every state throughout the United States), the minimum illegal blood alcohol concentration is .08.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “researchers found that after these devices were installed, re-arrest rates for alcohol-impaired driving decreased by a median of 67 percent relative to drivers with suspended licenses.” Currently, 24 states have laws on their books that require the use of ignition interlock devices for DUI offenders. Within each state, however, the laws vary when an ignition interlock device is to be used. For example, some states require the use of ignition interlock devices for DUI offenders with a BAC of .08 or greater. Other states, including Texas, require devices only when an offender has a BAC of .15 or greater. Further, some states do not even have a mandatory program, but employ a discretionary program for any DUI offender.

Under Texas law, magistrate judges are required to order “defendants charged with a subsequent DWI to install an IID unless the magistrate finds that the installation of an IID would not be in the best interest of justice.” The law applies “to persons convicted of a second and subsequent offense relating to a DWI committed within 5 years.” Furthermore, an ignition interlock device must be installed for an offender regarding offenses involving a BAC of .15 or greater. The offender must install ignition interlock devices on all of the motor vehicles he or she owns for 1 year following a period of license suspension.

Possible Changes to DWI Ignition Interlock Laws in Texas

Mothers Against Drunk Driving has been leading campaigns throughout the country to encourage states to pass tougher laws regulating the use of ignition interlock devices. MADD’s goal is “to get all states to require first-time DWI offenders to install ignition interlock devices in their vehicles.”

MADD does not believe Texas’s current laws governing the use of ignition interlock devices do enough to prevent DUI-related accidents and deaths. Jason Derscheid, executive director of MADD’s North Texas affiliate, believes there are several reasons why drunk driving deaths are such a problem in Texas. One reason is the state’s large population. Derscheid, however, also believes that another reason is that “Texas is one of the last to come to the table as far as updating drunk driving laws, and when they finally put in the legislation, they took away a lot the judges could do as far as sentencing.”

If you have any questions regarding Texas DWI laws, you should contact an experienced Texas DWI attorney.

School Bus Driver Intoxicated While Carrying More Than 20 Students

A Leander Independent School District bus driver has been charged with operating a vehicle while intoxicated. The school bus had anywhere from 22 to 30 students at the time the driver operated the bus while intoxicated.

While carrying the students on the bus, the driver hit a mailbox, damaged trees, and destroyed various other things along the roadway. The driver tore through a portion of some landscaping and left huge tire tracks on person’s property. According to reports, the students were yelling and screaming at the bus driver to stop. After learning that they were in danger, some students were able to get off the bus.

Police were alerted of the situation after they received a call reporting a bus driving erratically and hitting trees. By the time the police arrived and pulled over the bus, the driver had already completed the route and there were children left on the bus. The responding officer administered a field sobriety test. The officer stated that the driver fell down a couple of times and failed six of the eight tests that are indicative of intoxication.

Officials stated that the driver might have been using up to nine medications at the time of the arrest, including Lisinopril, Hydrocodone, and Xanax. The driver’s arrest warrant states that before her arrest, the driver admitted to taking painkillers and antidepressants and mixed the drugs with alcohol. Following the incident, the Leander Independent School District terminated the driver, who had six years of experience. The driver has been charged with a felony DWI and with a misdemeanor for the damage caused to the property.

Fortunately, none of the children were physically injured, but clearly they suffered emotional trauma for the incident. The children on the bus ranged from fifth grade to kindergartners.

Texas DWI law

Under Texas law, a person may be arrested and charged with Driving While Intoxicated if the person has a blood or breath alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08 or greater. Furthermore, as shown with the Leander school bus driver, a person can also be intoxicated and charged with a DWI if the person is impaired due to other drugs, regardless of one’s BAC.

If stopped while driving, you should be prepared to show your driver’s license, car insurance, and vehicle registration. Depending on the circumstances of the stop, if you refuse to take a blood or breath test, your driver’s license can be automatically suspended for 180 days.

DWI convictions carry progressive punishments, with a first offense resulting in a fine up to $2,000, jail time up to 180 days, and loss of a driver’s license for up to year.

If you have been charged with a DWI, an attorney can help you with your case. Johnson, Johnson & Baer, P.C. employs an experienced team of attorneys with over 40 years of DWI experience. Our attorneys will be there for you to fight for your rights and to help you with your case.

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