Prosecutors will often pressure those unfortunate bastards caught stoned behind the wheel to accept a plea deal in an effort to hurry along the case, but one Colorado attorney suggests that it is always best to take marijuana DUIs to trial because courts in states where pot is legal are having a difficult time getting juries to convict people of this offense.
One of the most recent events publicized on the subject of stoned driving is one involving a Colorado man who was charged with operating a motor vehicle under the influence of marijuana after a blood test revealed that he was a few tokes over the legal limit. But rather than accepting his lumps, which would have cost him thousands of dollars in fines and the loss of his driver’s license, 27-year-old Ralph Banks took his case to a jury trial where he was acquitted of the charges in a matter of just thirty minutes because there was not enough evidence to prove he was actually driving high.
“It’s not like alcohol,” said attorney Rob Corry, who represented the defendant in the case. “Marijuana is different. The standards are not one-size-fits-all.”
Colorado is one of four states in this country that has legalized marijuana for recreational purposes. However, it is still against the law to drive impaired. But that is not stopping law enforcement officers in legal states from doing everything they can to bust those members of the cannabis community that they suspect of rolling around streets ripped and red-eyed. As it stands, many states have adopted a legal THC limit of .05 nanograms per milliliter of blood as a means for determining impairment. The only problem is this method of measurement is not capable of accurately gauging impairment because of the way cannabis metabolizes in the body.
“It’s really difficult to document drugged driving in a relevant way,” Margaret Haney, a neurobiologist at Columbia University, told NPR, earlier this year, “[because of] the simple fact that THC is fat soluble. That makes it absorbed in a very different way and much more difficult to relate behavior to, say, [blood] levels of THC or develop a breathalyzer.”
In the case of Mr. Banks, the court told the jury that he registered 7.9 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood, which is a few points over what is legally allowed in Colorado and in most states where weed has been made legal for recreational or even medicinal purposes. Had this been a case involving alcohol, Banks would have been found guilty of DUI. But his attorney, by simply arguing that his client was a “responsible consumer” and was “not impaired, even to the slightest degree” when the officer asked him to consent to a field sobriety test, managed to convince the jury that Banks was innocent.
Interestingly, the acquittal of Ralph Banks is not a rare or isolated incident. A spokesperson for the Colorado District Attorney’s Office confirmed that “most marijuana DUI cases result in acquittal,” because the current law does not come with a solid enough foundation to hold citizens accountable for the offense.
But you still need to be careful. There are still about 16 states that have zero-tolerance laws for drugged driving. A positive result for marijuana in these places, regardless if the last time you smoked was a week ago, will result in a DUI. Failure to comply with an officer’s request for a roadside sobriety test, blood test, or a saliva test means an automatic DUI and the suspension of your driver’s license.
So play it smart and do not intentionally drive stoned just to test the boundaries of the law. Yet if you get accused of driving high, get yourself a lawyer and go to trial – you’ll have a fighting chance at beating the charges.
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