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Drug driving

By Jeff Terrill

Fort Wayne Reader

2012-09-06


Even if youíve never smoked marijuana, you likely know someone who has smoked or who still does smoke. Most people in Indiana know that itís illegal to possess or use marijuana within the state, but many donít know that itís against the law to drive a vehicle the day after or even a few weeks after a person last smoked marijuana.

Meet Mike. Mike has a good job. Mike is a responsible guy. He graduated from college and owns his own home. Mike goes to church and even volunteers at a homeless shelter several times a month. Mike isnít a big drinker. In fact, he rarely drinks and when he does itís usually not more than a beer or two. Every once in a while, Mike smokes marijuana. He only smokes at home and he knows not to drive.

Last Friday night, Mike smoked a little bit of weed at home. He watched a movie and was asleep before midnight. On Sunday of that same weekend, Mike met his friends for their weekly softball game. After the game, some of Mikeís teammates talked about going to a bar to watch the game and have a few drinks. Knowing that he wasnít going to drink (or smoke), Mike offered to drive. Mikeís friends finished off a few pitchers of beer, had a good time, and after the game ended, Mike drove his friends to their homes. Before he dropped the last person off, Mike was pulled over by a police officer for failing to use his turn signal when leaving the neighborhood.

The officer said Mikeís car smelled like beer. Mike explained that he was the designated driver and that his passengers had been drinking. The officer told Mike there was only one passenger inside the car. Mike explained that he had dropped the others off at their homes. The officer asked Mike to step out of the vehicle and explained that he had reasons to believe that Mike was under the influence. The officer gave Mike an opportunity to submit to a chemical test and Mike agreed.

The officer transported Mike to the hospital where Mikeís urine and blood were tested for the presence of controlled substances and alcohol. Several minutes later, the results were in and Mike was placed under arrest for operating a vehicle with a metabolite of a controlled substance in his body. Mike told the officer he consumed no alcohol or drugs that day. The officer told Mike it didnít matter.

In Indiana, itís a Class C misdemeanor for a person to operate a vehicle with a controlled substance or metabolite in the personís body. A Class C misdemeanor is punishable up to 60 days in jail. A person who consumed a controlled substance consistent with a physicianís valid prescription has a viable defense to the charge. But marijuana is not legal within the State. Accordingly, a physician canít prescribe it. The mere presence of the drug or its metabolite is all that is necessary for a person to be charged. The State doesnít need to prove intoxication or that a person was ďhighĒ when he drove the vehicle. If a person has a prior conviction for operating while intoxicated, or if there is an accident where someone is injured or killed, the penalties increase substantially.

Unlike alcohol, there is no acceptable level of drugs under the law. Beer, wine and liquor, for example, are legal. Marijuana is not. Therefore, any presence of marijuana or its metabolite within a personís body is illegal. Unlike alcohol and some drugs, marijuana can stay within a personís body for several weeks.

Back to Mike. Mike was sober. He thought he was good to drive. He hadnít smoked in almost two days. Mike knew marijuana was illegal to smoke, but he didnít know it was illegal to drive several days or weeks after he smoked.

But now you know.

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Jeff Terrill is a partner/shareholder with the law firm of Arnold Terrill Anzini, P.C. Mr. Terrill represents clients accused of crimes throughout northeast Indiana. You can contact Mr. Terrill with any questions or comments at his office at 260.420.7777 or via email at jterrill@fortwaynedefense.com. Learn more about his firm at www.fortwaynedefense.com. _This article expressed opinions and observations of the author, is not intended as legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship between the author and the reader. Please consult a qualified attorney with any legal questions or issues you might have. Thank you.

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