Florida Marijuana DUI Cases Still Hazy

Some 70 percent of Floridians support the legalization of medicinal marijuana, and advocates have gathered enough signatures for a state supreme court review of a ballot measure to decriminalize the drug here in the Sunshine State.
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However, our Fort Lauderdale criminal defense lawyers know that regardless of what voters decide, the issue of marijuana DUI will continue to be a complex one. Even those states that have long approved marijuana as medicine have yet to draft legislation that appropriately deals with the issue.

Some have passed measures treating it like alcohol, allowing that any certain degree of concentration of THC, the active ingredient in the drug, should be considered impairment. This approach is logical on the surface, but it fails to take into account that marijuana is processed differently by the body than alcohol. Specifically, the drug stays in one’s system longer, so higher levels of the drug in one’s blood stream aren’t necessarily indicative of impairment.

Other states, meanwhile, have simply left the question of impairment up to individual law enforcement officers. The problem with this approach is that, again, authorities are approaching it like alcohol. While the signs of alcohol impairment tend to be fairly obvious, indications of marijuana impairment are not. In fact, symptoms often associated with marijuana impairment can be indicative of some other condition.

This is a large part of the reason why law enforcement agencies have paid large sums to train and retain drug recognition “experts,” or officers who are trained to identify certain types of impairment in the field. But even these officers aren’t in the medical profession, and “diagnosing” one’s level of impairment is, at best, an educated guess.

Under the law, driving while impaired by drugs is treated the same as if you were under the influence of alcohol. Florida Statute 316.193 defines “impairment” as when one is affected to the extent that his or her normal faculties are impaired. While proof of alcohol impairment can be bolstered by a blood-alcohol measurement of 0.08 percent, it’s not as simple to quantify marijuana impairment, as we mentioned previously. In Florida, there is no standard threshold of THC concentration at which officials might consider you intoxicated.

However, that also means that evidence of any trace amounts in your blood could be used against you in court.

A teen in Boca Raton was recently arrested on suspicion of DUI manslaughter, following a fatal crash this spring in which a 65-year-old motorcyclist was killed. The 17-year-old, who was then 16, reportedly smoked a marijuana joint with friends on the way to the beach just prior to the crash, for which he was considered at-fault.

Officers say they based the charge on statements provided by the teen’s friend and the teen himself, as well as blood test results that revealed the presence of the drug in his system. Whether one joint’s worth of marijuana shared between a group of four friends will be enough to prove intoxication remains to be seen.

Police on the crash scene say the suspect appeared “distracted.” But again, does that prove intoxication or was he simply overwhelmed by the life-altering situation that had just unfolded?

An experienced defense attorney can help tremendously in shifting the narrative in Florida marijuana DUI cases.

If you are arrested in Palm Beach or Broward counties, contact the Law Offices of Leifert & Leifert, a Partnership of Former Prosecutors, for a free consultation to discuss your rights. Call 1.888.5.DEFEND.

Additional Resources:
Florida Medical Marijuana Proposal To Be Reviewed By Supreme Court, Aug. 16, 2013, Staff Report, The Huffington Post
More Blog Entries:
Drug Sentencing Policy Shift Announced by Federal Authorities, Aug. 20, 2013, Fort Lauderdale Marijuana DUI Lawyer Blog

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