Articles Posted in Drugs

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This fall, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court considered whether field sobriety tests (FSTs) could be admitted as evidence when a police officer suspects the driver has been driving while under the influence of marijuana. In determining whether a suspect is driving under the influence of alcohol, police typically administer three FSTs — the “walk and turn test,” the “horizontal gaze nystagmus test,” and the “one leg stand test.” These tests were specifically developed to measure alcohol consumption, and there is agreement in the scientific community that a strong correlation exists between insufficient performance on the FSTs and a BAC (blood-alcohol content) of over .08% (the legal limit). By contrast, there is no scientific agreement yet that FSTs, or some FSTs, can determine marijuana intoxication.

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In 2016, the Illinois governor signed SB 2228, dictating that drivers will be subject to Illinois marijuana DUI charges only if they have at least 5 ng of THC in their blood, or at least 10 ng of THC in their saliva. Prior to the law, the state could bring DUI charges even when the subject had just trace amounts of THC in their system. This meant that someone who smoked marijuana weeks prior could still test positive and be charged with a misdemeanor. The fact that people could face DUIs for trace THC in their systems “was making a crime without any criminal intent,” said an Illinois public defender.

The new Illinois law did not change the pre-existing law making it a DUI to drive while under the influence of cannabis. At trial, the state must prove by the arresting officer’s expert testimony that the person was impaired due to the consumption of cannabis. As with a DUI for alcohol, a person can be found guilty even if he or she is under the “legal limit” if the court finds that he or she was impaired to the point that he or she was unable to safely operate a motor vehicle.

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A man was killed in a car crash caused by a driver who huffed 1,1-difluoroethane, or DFE, immediately before and while driving. Based on her prior history of becoming unconscious after huffing DFE, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court concluded that her conduct constituted the high level of recklessness required for a finding of malice sufficient to support her convictions of third-degree murder and aggravated assault. It therefore affirmed the superior court’s decision. This decision may be relevant to Illinois drug DUI cases in the event that the courts in this state consider a similar situation.

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The Commonwealth charged the driver with numerous offenses, including aggravated assault, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, aggravated assault while DUI, homicide by vehicle, third-degree murder, and homicide by vehicle while DUI.

At her October 2014 jury trial, the evidence showed that the driver and her then-fiance drove to a Walmart store. They purchased two cans of Dust-Off and some other items and then returned to the car. (Dust-Off contains DFE, a colorless gas commonly used as a refrigerant or as a propellant for aerosol sprays and in gas duster products.) Before exiting the parking lot, she opened the Dust-Off, and both she and her ex-fiance huffed.