Arizona Supreme Court’s Huge Decision on Marijuana DUI Cases
On Tuesday, April 22, 2014, the Arizona Supreme Court made a decision that affects many people currently charged with DUI in Arizona. Specifically, many people who have been charged with DUI as a result of having ingested marijuana. If you are one of these people, make sure that your Phoenix area criminal defense attorney is intimately familiar with this ground-shaking decision. It is a big one.
The Arizona DUI law that prohibits driving while having drugs in the body has been hotly contested in the recent past, specifically in marijuana cases. The law was often surprising to those that were charged. You see the law (A.R.S. 28-1381(A)(3)) makes it illegal to be in actual physical control of a vehicle while there is “any drug defined in A.R.S. 13-3401 or its metabolite in the person’s body.” Here is the problem for people who have used marijuana: one of the metabolites of marijuana stays in the body for up to 30 days! Here is another problem: that metabolite DOES NOT cause ANY impairment. So, you can see why people (including juries asked to find defendants guilty) have long been confused that a person is guilty of Driving Under the INFLUENCE of a drug, when all that is in the body is an “inactive metabolite” (byproduct), up to a month after taking the drug. This has become increasingly puzzling now that people may legally take marijuana under the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act (AMMA). Think of it this way: a person legally takes marijuana for a medical condition and is pulled over three weeks later, completely sober. They could then be charged and convicted of DUI despite the fact that there was absolutely NO impairment from the drug or the metabolite that is still in the body. One person who was charged under this statute appealed all the way up to the Arizona Supreme Court. The Court decided that finding such people guilty of DUI “leads to absurd results”. The Court reasoned that the purpose of DUI law is to protect the public from impaired driving, and defining “metabolite” as including metabolites that do not cause impairment could not have been the intent of the legislature when creating this law.
This is could be big news for people currently charged or awaiting charges in a DUI involving marijuana. Consult an attorney to see if this decision has an impact on your case and your options going forward. I am happy to provide a free consultation and to provide you with options and information. Although this article is NOT legal advice, I feel it appropriate to issue a WARNING. It is still illegal to drive while under the influence of any drug, including marijuana.
This decision by the Arizona Supreme Court simply states that an inactive metabolite (“Carboxy-THC”) that remains in a person’s body and does not cause impairment, cannot be used to convict under this statute. If THC or the active metabolite of “Hydroxy-THC” is detected in the body, that can be sufficient to convict. Also, the area of DUI in Arizona is very technical and cannot be fully explained in this short article. There are multiple ways to be guilty of DUI in Arizona and it is best to consult a criminal defense attorney to further explain what is relevant in your case.