The issue of marijuana DUI in California has been gaining steam, as proposed legislative measures in other states, such as Colorado, seek to quantify marijuana intoxication of motorists – a tough thing to do fairly, considering the length of time the drug remains present in one’s blood stream.
However, a recent case out of Orange County involving a college student reveals that marijuana DUI cases are often very winnable. In fact, these cases may actually be easier to win than alcohol DUI charges, where the standards are much more clear-cut.
It’s worth noting that between 1997 and 2006, state data shows that about 25 percent of all DUI cases are either dismissed or the defendant is found not guilty. It’s believed that the dismissal/not guilty rate for marijuana DUI defendants is much higher.
In this case, People v. Gibson, the defendant was psychology major at the University of Southern California. She was reportedly pulled over in December by an officer in Orange County for a minor traffic infraction.
The officer proceeded to initiate several field sobriety tests on the young woman. He reported her performance on these tests were poor.
He then had a blood test ordered, which revealed she had 8 nanograms per mililiter of THC in her blood.
In California, there is no legal standard that defines marijuana intoxication, though there have been numerous efforts to try. Right now in Colorado, a measure establishing a 5 ng//ml standard has passed both the state House and Senate, and is awaiting approval from the governor. It appears poised to pass, despite very clear and convincing evidence that such a standard does not accurately reflect intoxication of a driver.
As we’ve mentioned before in this Los Angeles Marijuana Lawyer Blog, marijuana, unlike alcohol, remains in a person’s systems for weeks and possibly even more than a month. For someone that uses the drug for medicinal purposes (or even someone who uses it heavily for recreational purposes), the level of THC in a person’s blood could easily be higher than 5 ng/ml or 8 ng/ml – without that person actually being intoxicated. That’s why having a set standard is such a bad idea in the first place.
In this case, the defense attorneys argued the case on two fronts: One, the subjective nature of the field sobriety tests and two, the standard of intoxication based on the 8 ng/ml reading.
With regard to the sobriety tests, we place a huge amount of credence in an officer’s observations. It is true that they deal with these matters on a daily basis, but unlike alcohol intoxication, drug intoxication is much more difficult to accurately “diagnose.” This is evidenced by the fact that many agencies pay good money to specially train officers to recognize certain types of drug intoxication. If an officer doesn’t have this training – and most don’t – there is a good chance the case could be dismissed, if it relies heavily on the officer’s observations.
With regard to the standard of intoxication, as we mentioned earlier, California has no statute at this point that quantifies that at any level. So it’s not an automatic win for a prosecutor to say that someone had a certain amount of THC in his or her system and therefore was intoxicated. It’s simply not an accurate measurement.
Ultimately in this case, the jury hung 9-to-3, and the prosecutor has declined to try the case again.
The Los Angeles CANNABIS LAW Group represents growers, dispensaries, collectives, patients and those facing marijuana charges. Call us at 714-937-2050.
California VC Section 23152 (a)
More Blog Entries:
California Supreme Court Affirms Right to Ban Marijuana Dispensaries, May 7, 2013, Los Angeles Marijuana Lawyer Blog