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DUI of Drugs

Drugs, prescription or illegal, may affect the normal physiological function of the body. Drugs may affect coordination and judgment; essential qualities required for driving. Common among many people, is Driving Under the Influence of Alcohol (DUI), where a breathalyzer is used to determine the extent of your alcohol toxicity. Driving under the influence of drugs or DUID is a relatively new offense. Drug-related DUI laws were forged to punish drug-induced drivers under a separate and more specific statute. How do you get arrested for DUID? What are the drugs considered for a DUID charge? What are the consequences of a DUID conviction in Arizona? In this article, you shall find the answers to these and other questions about DUID. You shall also gain a deeper understanding of the DUID offense.

Merits and Demerits of DUID Laws

It is unethical to drive when under the influence of potent drugs; however, the grounds of toxicity determination are unfair. In a DUI for alcohol, the arresting officer may conduct a field sobriety test; in a DUID, the presence of metabolites (chemical changes) in the body determine drug toxicity. Metabolite tests reveal chemical elements or compounds that were taken by the subject at any point within the last few days.

Driving under the Influence of Controlled Substances

Driving under the influence of alcohol is the original crime that led to the development of anti-DUID laws. Well-calibrated Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) tools and instruments determine the levels of alcohol toxicity. However, much BAC kits and field sobriety tests may not be perfect; they are the most accurate options that are consistent enough for reliance by the law. Alcohol is only one of many substances that can induce the impairment of judgment.

The use of hard drugs, illegal substances, and some prescription medicines are much more difficult to trace. Drugs like cocaine, heroin, sedatives, pain killers, marijuana, and other chemical substances stay in the body longer than alcohol. Even when the drug is past the point of inducing impairment, traces of the drug can still appear in your blood. It is a hard task for law enforcement to determine the effective impairment levels of these drugs.

Measuring Drug-Related DUIs (DUID)

When you take any drug substance, the body secretes metabolites to break down the drug. In the case of alcohol, your body emits Aldehyde dehydrogenase and Alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH) to breakdown the alcohol for absorption. Alcohol breathalyzers do not measure the levels of alcohol in your blood; instead, they determine alcohol toxicity through the detection of alcohol metabolites in your breath. When a police officer is building a DUI case against you, the officer has to present evidence that supports his or her claim. For a drinking DUI, the presence of alcohol metabolites in your breath is strong evidence. Alcohol metabolism is reasonably fast; an average alcoholic drink metabolizes at a rate of 0.16 percent per hour.

In the case of drugs, legal or otherwise, the metabolism of one drug is unique and utterly different from the next. This uniqueness makes it particularly challenging to detect in an accurate measure the presence of specific substances in your body. Each test has to be unique, making the process expensive and time wasting. As a result, most states have a zero-tolerance policy or otherwise known as the “Per Se Approach” when it comes to non-alcohol DUIs. What does this mean? A motorist who may not appear subject of drug impairment may land a conviction of driving under the influence of drugs when metabolites related to the drug in question are present at the time of the arrest; no physical manifestation of impairment needed. In short, whether particular drugs impair your judgment or not, they shouldn’t be present when you are driving in a zero-tolerance state.

Driving Under the Influence of Marijuana

Besides alcohol, marijuana is the most popular recreational drug. Unlike alcohol, cannabis is arguably the most challenging drug to measure in the context of a DUI. To understand the role of cannabis in the impairment of drivers, you need to know that marijuana is a cocktail of many chemical compounds. The most relevant compounds are Cannabidiol (CBD) and Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Unlike CBD, THC is the psychoactive compound found in cannabis. THC is responsible for the high you get from marijuana use.

Most states in America arrest drivers who have any measurable levels of Tetrahydrocannabinol in their blood at the time of the arrest. Congress, through the farm bill, empowered individual states to legalize the recreational or medical use of marijuana. This move, however, presented a unique challenge to law enforcement in the fight against “Stoned driving.” How are THC levels measured in the case of driving under the influence of marijuana? When you ingest or smoke pot, the effect may last a few hours, but the metabolites persist in the body for as long as one week. Results from urinalysis reveal the presence of Marijuana metabolites in the subject's urine. For marijuana-related DUIs, urinalysis alone may not be strong enough to build a case against you. Physiological and behavioral evidence may come in play to support a positive urinalysis test; evidence like erratic lane changing, slow speech, and bloodshot eyes.

Drug-Related DUI Laws

What are the elements of a DUID offense? To get arrested and charged with driving under the influence of drugs, you need to have driven or assumed control of a vehicle on a public road; and at the time of your driving, you were under the influence of illegal or controlled substances. Passengers who are high on alcohol, illicit and controlled substances cannot get charged with a DUI.

According to the law, the phrase “Under the influence” means that the driver’s ability to safely operate a motor vehicle was compromised or impaired to a reasonable degree by alcohol, drugs, or both. Drug-related DUI is a crime in all the 50 states and the District of Columbia.

Are Drug DUI Laws Same for Every State?

Drug-related DUI laws vary from state to state. Each state customizes laws to punish “Driving under the influence” within that particular jurisdiction. DUI laws in the United States fall in any of three categories;

  1. Effect-Based DUID Laws: These are laws that depend on the direct measure or extent of the driver’s level of impairment. These laws define “Driving under the influence” as lack of capacity to safely drive because of drug use. Impairment by drugs is tested or measured by subjecting the driver to field sobriety tests, body fluid screening and observation by the officer on the scene. A driver with measurable or visible drug impairment suffers the risk of conviction under effect-based DUID charges. Sometimes, a body fluid screening test is not enough to convict a suspect; the case has to get support from evidence that suggests the driver's incapability to operate a vehicle safely. The court will sum up the circumstances and determine whether the suspect was fit or not to drive at the time in question.

  2. Per Se DUID Laws: Per Se Drug DUI Laws employ a predetermined limit of the level of drugs that is acceptable. A suspect whose drug levels surpass this limit suffers the risk of a drug-related DUI charge. A typical example of a Per Se Law is the one that governs drunk driving. This law defines an alcohol DUI as a blood alcohol content (BAC) of over 0.08%. In this case, anyone registering a BAC of over 0.08% is guilty regardless of whether or not he or she is visibly impaired. For drugs, setting a limit on the amount or concentration of metabolites found in body fluids is a challenging task. A drug like marijuana has no stable level that can set the standard of intoxication. According to the United States Department of Transportation, toxicologists are yet to agree on the specific level of drugs present in the bloodstream to serve as a measuring stick for impairment. Per Se alcohol DUI laws are common; Per Se Drug DUI laws are rare. In Colorado, Per Se laws define impaired for marijuana as a Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) level of over five nanograms (recreational marijuana use is illegal in this state). In Nevada, THC levels of over two nanograms could land you a DUID conviction (medical marijuana is legal in Nevada). In Pennsylvania, THC levels of over one nanogram can get you a marijuana DUI.

  3. Zero Tolerance Laws: Zero tolerance laws allow the conviction of Drug DUI suspects for any readable amounts of drugs or drug metabolites in the bloodstream. As a result of toxicologists’ failure to determine specific drug toxicity limits, zero tolerance laws came to being. Some states have a zero-tolerance policy on impaired driving; others don't. Zero tolerance means that any readable traces of drug metabolites in the blood or urine could land you a DUID conviction. Zero tolerance laws allow for the sentence of drivers who are undeniably sober but have traceable quantities of metabolites in their body fluids for a drug taken a few days before the arrest. The states that have a zero tolerance to drug DUIs include (but not limited to) Iowa, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Rhode Island, Utah, and Arizona. Michigan and Arizona allow the use of medical marijuana. Utah, Indiana, Illinois, Georgia, and Arizona require mandatory imprisonment for first-time offenders with any drug metabolites in body fluids.

Driving Under the Influence of Drugs in Arizona

Like other states in the United States, you can get arrested for operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of any illegal substance or legal substance that causes impairment at the time of your driving. The statutes A.R.S. §28-1381(A)(1) and A.R.S. §28-1381(A)(3) criminalizes drug-related DUIs in Arizona. The law A.R.S. §28-1381(A)(1) states that drivers are not allowed to operate vehicles while under the influence of any drug, intoxicating liquor, vaporized toxic substance, or a combination of alcoholic beverages, drugs, or vapor releasing materials. It further states that any impairment of the slightest degree could lead to an arrest and a DUI charge. Under the A.R.S. §28-1381(A)(1) statute, you can also get arrested and charged with a DUI offense for driving under the influence of legally prescribed drugs if you are using the prescription drugs outside your doctor’s recommendation. You can also get arrested if a police officer believes that the prescription drug taken by the driver has an impairment effect on the operator of the motor vehicle.

The statute A.R.S. §28-1381(A)(3) states that it is illegal to drive in the state of Arizona while there are any drugs defined in section 13-3401 or any of their metabolites in the driver’s body system. The drugs stated under the statute A.R.S. §13-3401 include narcotic drugs, marijuana, prescription medicine, and dangerous drugs. Any prescription medicine without a valid prescription is also prohibited. The state of Arizona has a zero-tolerance approach to driving under the influence of drugs; impairment at the time of arrest is irrelevant to your case. The presence of drug metabolites in your body fluids could land you a drug-related DUI conviction. When you ingest drugs, the active compounds of the drugs are transported to your liver where they are broken down. Drug-specific metabolites break down the active compounds of the drug. In the case of marijuana, the metabolites persist in the body for up to weeks after the psychoactive effects cannabis wears off. Cannabis metabolites are traceable from urinalysis or urine drug tests.

Penalties for Driving Under the Influence of Drugs in Arizona

Similar to drinking and driving or alcohol DUIs, the consequences for driving under the influence of drugs in Arizona are quite severe. In Arizona, a first-time drug-related DUI offense is a Class 1 Misdemeanor. For class 1 misdemeanor offenses, the penalties could include a jail sentence not exceeding six months, fines of up to $2,500 plus surcharges, and significant hours of drug and alcohol screening and treatment. For a first-time offender, you may also get a 5-year probation sentence. The minimum penalty for a Class 1 Misdemeanor is a 10-day jail term; 9 of the ten days may be suspended upon the completion of drug screening and treatment. Part of this sentence includes a $2,500 fine plus surcharges, and a maximum probation period of up to 5 years.

For second time offenders, when the period between your DUI arrests is less than seven years, the penalties are more severe. The minimum punishment for second-time drug DUI offenses includes a 30 day stay in jail, alcohol or drug screening and treatment, and up to five years of probation.

For all alcohol-related DUIs, usually, the Department Motor Vehicles places a 90-day suspension on your driver’s license with a restricted permit that is obtainable after 30 days. For drug-related DUIs, the punishment is more severe; a mandatory 1-year suspension is placed on the offender’s driver’s license. During this suspension, as the offender, you cannot obtain a restricted driver’s permit to use during your suspension.

What to Do When Arrested for Drug-Related DUI

When a police officer pulls you over, and you were driving under the influence of a legal or illegal substance, your instincts may tempt you to speed off or to resist arrest. For the sake of a strong legal defense, it is recommendable that you resist these urges and cooperate with law enforcers. When a police officer suspects you for a drug-related DUI, he or she has to prove his/her suspicions. Proving the ingestion of drugs is a difficult and expensive task. Even with a blood test, you can beat the case by describing your impairment as a temporary driving glitch. To trace specific drugs, the prosecution requires specific tests. Currently, there are no known tests that can test a driver’s use of prescription pills like Valium, Xanax, Percocet, Ativan, and other prescription drugs.

For a conviction, the prosecution has to prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt to the judge and jury. The success or failure of a drug-related DUI strongly depends on the arresting officer’s observation, evidence collection and the results of a fluid body test. Prescription medicine intake is hard to trace. If the evidence is handled poorly or if the officer did not observe your rights during the arrest, you could walk away free.

As the defendant, you should get a lawyer to build a legal defense on your behalf. At Phoenix Criminal Attorney, we will fight for your rights. Our attorneys specialize in DUIs, criminal cases, domestic violence, white collar crimes, drug offenses, theft, misdemeanors, felonies, assault crimes, and other crimes. It is not our job to judge, it is our mandate to protect your rights. Call our Phoenix Criminal Lawyer at 602-551-8092 today for a free consultation. Hire our services, and we shall fight for you.

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