Articles Posted in Drugs

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Police officers in Delray Beach, Florida recently responded to a car accident in which a man driving a pick-up truck collided with a minivan, resulting in the death of all four occupants of the minivan. In investigating the crash, the driver of the pick-up truck submitted to blood testing and was ultimately charged with DUI manslaughter. While DUI-related car crashes are an unfortunately common occurrence, this one is distinctive because the driver did not consume any alcohol or any illicit drugs. Instead, the blood test revealed the driver was under the influence of difluoroethane, a liquefied gas used as a propellant. Upon further investigation, the police uncovered that the driver had huffed Dust-Off, a household cleaner, prior to the crash to get high.prisoner

The driver’s attorney has set forth the argument that since Florida does not have a defined legal limit of inhalants a driver can consume before he or she is considered impaired, the DUI charge is improper. The driver has pleaded not guilty and is awaiting a jury trial. While the pick-up truck driver’s case is the first case since 2014 in which a driver was charged with DUI manslaughter due to intoxication by inhalants, there were other instances in which drivers caused fatal crashes after inhaling intoxicants, but those drivers were not charged with DUI. The increase in charges due to intoxication by inhalants is evident throughout the country as well, including in Illinois DUI cases.

Unlike Florida, Illinois has a broader DUI statute that allows a person to be charged with DUI for reasons other than impairment due to the consumption of alcohol. Specifically, the Illinois DUI statute states that a person shall not drive if they are under the influence of an “intoxicating compound” to a degree that renders him or her unable to drive safely. These catchall provisions are specifically aimed at preventing people from driving while under the influence of non-traditional intoxicants, such as paint, markers, and aerosol spray. As a result, an Illinois license holder who inhales household intoxicants and then drives can be charged with DUI.

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Language barriers frequently arise in every day life. While apps and websites that provide quick translations to and from English and other languages are convenient, they are not suitable for all purposes. In a recent case heard in the United States District Court of the District of Kansas, U.S. v. Omar Cruz-Zamora, the court ruled that Google translate was insufficient for obtaining proper consent from a non-English speaking suspect prior to searching the suspect’s vehicle. The court held the language barriers between the suspect and arresting officers were not overcome by Google translate, and therefore the consent to search a vehicle was not given freely and intelligently and was invalid. As such, the search of the car was unconstitutional and the evidence against the suspect was suppressed. While the ruling in Omar Cruz-Zamora does not have precedential value in Illinois, it may be viewed as persuasive if the issue of adequate translation arises in Illinois DUI cases.Car

The suspect in Omar Cruz-Zamora was stopped for a traffic violation. Under the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution individuals are protected against unreasonable search and seizure. As such, since the officers did not have a warrant, they were required to make sure the suspect understood he could refuse to allow them to search the vehicle and obtain the suspect’s consent to search the vehicle.  The suspect spoke very limited English and could not understand the officers’ questions. The officers did not know they had access to a live human translator and used Google translate to advise the suspect of his rights and obtain his consent. The translations provided did not accurately communicate the information the officers were trying to convey and there was no evidence the suspect understood his right to refuse to allow his vehicle to be searched or the purposes for which his consent was requested. The suspect ultimately consented to the search, and upon searching the vehicle the officers found illicit drugs and arrested the suspect.

At the trial, the suspect testified he was confused as to what the officers were asking and did not know he had the right to refuse to allow them to search the vehicle. Translators called upon to assess the accuracy of Google translate testified it often provided a literal but nonsensical translation, and therefore was not a reliable translation tool. The suspect argued that any evidence obtained during the search was obtained without his consent and should be suppressed. Upon reviewing the evidence, the court found it was clear the suspect did not understand what the officers were asking when he consented to the search. Further, the court found the good-faith exception the exclusionary rule of evidence obtained via unlawful searches did not apply because it was unreasonable for the officers to rely on Google translate. As such, the court granted the suspect’s motion to suppress.

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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.