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Last month, Illinois became the 11th state to legalize marijuana and since just a few weeks ago, we reminded our readers about The Basics of a California DUI, this may be a good time to also remind our readers that a DUI is not just about alcohol.
We tend to think about drunk driving only in terms of alcohol, primarily because it is the more dominant of legal substances that leads to a DUI. However, marijuana is also becoming more widespread and legal in recreational applications.
While marijuana may still be used by many for its medical properties, there has definitely been an increase in recreational use here in California, thus making DUI of marijuana more prevalent than it has been in the past.
California Vehicle Code section 23152 (f) states, “It is unlawful for a person who is under the influence of any drug to drive a vehicle.” “Any drug” includes those that are legal. The important factor here is “under the influence.” Although, prescription drugs and other legal drugs fall within this purview of “any drug,” a person must also have his or her mental or physical abilities impaired to such a degree that
he or she is unable to drive a vehicle with the caution of a sober person to be “under the influence.”
A recent survey by the AAA revealed that many Americans don’t believe that they will get caught when driving high on marijuana. An estimated 14.8 million Americans admitted to driving within one hour of using marijuana.
We have previously covered topics that have dealt with the insufficient methods of determining impairment, especially when it comes to the effects of THC and other drugs. This may add to the public’s belief that they may not get caught.
However, according to Executive Director of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, Dr. David Yang, “Marijuana can significantly alter reaction times and impair a driver’s judgement. Yet, many drivers don’t consider marijuana-impaired driving as risky as other behaviors like driving drunk or talking on the phone while driving.”
While it is true that no research has proven an exact correlation between impairment and specific levels of THC, unlike how we can calculate a correlation between heightened BAC levels, law enforcement is taking measures to train their officers to better detect impaired drivers. It is only a matter of time before a more consistent method of determining marijuana-impairment will be developed. There are already scientists and researchers hard at work in attempting to create a breathalyzer-type test for determining THC levels and even impairment.
Even current alcohol-testing breathalyzers (used for both the roadside test and for the mandatory “chemical test”), which have been around for quite some time, are by no means perfect. Depending on the officers administering them, how they are administered, and how they’re maintained, breathalyzer results can be challenged by competent DUI attorneys.
While probable cause may seem harder to prove with marijuana, or other drugs, when compared to alcohol, it does not mean that you are not actually impaired. The AAA website summed it up nicely, “AAA recommends all motorists avoid driving while impaired by marijuana or any other drug (including alcohol) to avoid arrest and keep the roads safe. Just because a drug is legal does not mean it is safe to use while operating a motor vehicle. Drivers who get behind the wheel while impaired put themselves and others at risk.”
Many of us have heard the rumors of state agencies not being able to play nice with each other or failing to share important information through a central database as a way to more efficiently catch travelling criminals. Well, here is a story of an agency having received the information, but never utilizing it to its potential.
According to the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, the Registry of Motor Vehicles received, but never processed notifications that their Massachusetts drivers suffered out-of-state violations, including DUI.
Governor Charlie Baker was quoted, “The fact the RMV failed to act on information related to the driver responsible for this is deeply troubling and completely unacceptable.”
The unfortunate and sad part is that this lapse in process came to light as a result of the arrest of one Volodymyr Zhukovsky, who holds a Massachusetts commercial license and who was suspected of killing seven motorcyclists with his pickup truck and trailer in New Hampshire after crossing a double yellow line.
Zhukovsky was charged with operating under the influence and refusing to take a chemical test in Connecticut only a few months prior. The Massachusetts RMV was notified of the charge in May but never processed the incident which should have been enough to suspend his license. It was found that Zhukovsky also had drug and traffic related incidents on his record from six different states.
An internal review by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, though preliminary, found issues with the processes for out-of-state violations of both commercial and personal driver’s licenses.
Many of the commercial license violations are automated. However, unless the information is entered automatically in a very specific way, the information must be entered manually. In the recent months, no employee was tasked to handle the manual notifications. It was also discovered that the notices that were sent via mail by other states were sorted, but never processed. Thousands of notices were found in a records room and being stored a whopping 53 bins. The past week has already seen hundreds of alcohol-related offenses that were serious enough to trigger a suspension in Massachusetts.
As of July 1st, 655 new license suspensions had been processed, all alcohol-related violations, and more are expected as they continue to sift through the 53 bins of notifications.
It has been reported that the state is going to be running all Massachusetts driver’s licenses through a national database to make sure that all violations relating to that license are recorded in Massachusetts.
It is hard to imagine that no one caught on to the fact that the notifications were not being processed. In both the manual processing of electronic notifications, as well as the increasing pile of unsorted mail notifications, no one questioned anything.
In most circumstances, I imagine that the individuals who thought they lucked out in that their charge was never fully processed are going to see their insurance rates go up once the state’s records catch up to the most updated information. And this is quite minor in terms of consequences that are catching up to them. Unfortunately, there are those who we wished were processed earlier so as to prevent such tragedy as was the case with the seven motorcyclists in New Hampshire. Nothing will bring them back, but hopefully this incident will cause other agencies and other states to consider their current processes and make sure that their information is up to date and shared information is also taken into consideration and processed so as to prevent such fatalities in the future.
In the years that President Trump has led from the Oval Office, there have been significant changes to former President Obama’s policies. One of the changes being to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, better known by many as DACA. This program, which allowed children who were brought to the United States before the age of 16 by undocumented immigrant parents to apply for deferred status and remain in the United States, was formally rescinded by Trump in 2017.
Under the current policy, for a DACA-eligible immigrant to gain deferred status to continue to stay in this country, they cannot have a felony conviction, a significant misdemeanor conviction, or three or more misdemeanor convictions. They must also pose no threat to national security or public safety. These eligible immigrants are referred to as “Dreamers.” However, under the current policy, there was no path to legal residency or ultimately citizenship.
Democrats have authored a bill to be considered by the House that would affect the process of gaining permanent residency for Dreamers and the conditions that would disqualify them from completing the process. Part of the new bill allows Dreamers to be deported if they have a felony DUI offense, three or more misdemeanor offenses, or if their DUI record can be interpreted by the Secretary of Homeland Security to be a threat. Although this is the main focus of the bill, there is also a section in the bill that allows the Secretary of Homeland Security to grant waivers for undocumented immigrants in regards to up to two DUI misdemeanors being counted against them if they have not had similar convictions in the 10 years leading up to their application for legal status. On the flip side, the Secretary may also deny someone’s legal status with one DUI offense if that offense leads to the belief that the person can be considered a public threat.
Supporters of this bill feel that it would be hypocritical for Congress to hold the Dreamers to a different standard than themselves. There have been several members of Congress who have a history of DUI and, for them, apologies seemed to have sufficed to allow them to continue in their positions. Examples of current members include Texas Representative Kevin Brady who pled no contest to a DUI charge in 2005, Idaho Senator Mike Crapo who pled guilty to DUI in 2013, and former Rhode Island Representative Patrick Kennedy who pled guilty to DUI in 2006.
Opposition to the bill feels that this new bill does not consider the severity of DUI convictions. Ohio Representative Chabot was quoted, “We should not be passing laws which shield drunk drivers from removal or reward them for their dangerous conduct by fast tracking them to get a green card.”
Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler of New York feels that “people make mistakes and laws and policy decisions should reflect that. [They are] no more or no less a public safety threat than a member of Congress who has a DUI conviction from several years ago.” Nadler continued, “This legislation is intended to recognize reality, that these people are Americans, that they are Americans in every sense except for a piece of paper, and to say, to imply, there’s one standard for members of Congress with a DUI conviction and another … where a single DUI can automatically expel them from the country is wrong.”
As an immigrant myself with permanent residency I agree that it does seem unfair to judge a person from a past DUI conviction when that mistake was just that; a mistake. Although I agree that society as a whole should be well aware of the seriousness and consequences of driving under the influence, setting a different standard for those children who had no say in coming into this country to begin with and have known no other home but this country, seems to be unfair. Obviously, if a Dreamer racks up multiple DUI, misdemeanor, or felony convictions, then at that point they would start to pose a threat to society, and the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security might have cause to deny legal status. Whether the bill passes or not, let’s hope that even the prospect of the bill becoming law is enough to deter Dreamers from getting behind the wheel while under the influence.
The Maui Police Department hope to be able to start enforcing their DUI laws in a more time efficient manner with the purchase and arrival of six new high-tech breathalyzers.
The current Intoxilyzer 8000 models have been used by the department since May 2015 and the introduction of the newer Intoxilyzer 9000s will hopefully allow the officers to spend less time documenting their tests results.
The new device is equipped with a touchscreen rather than a keyboard for easier data entry and its updated software will allow for some of the departmental forms to be incorporated into the device. This will allow the device to create reports rather than the officers manually typing out the reports as they did previously.
A grant totaling $63,000 through the state Department of Transportation allowed for the purchase of the new devices, and the Maui Police Department will be the first department in the state to transition to the Intoxilyzer 9000. The Honolulu Police Department also hopes to soon make the same transition.
DUI Task Force Sergeant Nick Krau has been tasked with the training as well as the writing of policy and operating procedures for the Intoxilyzer 9000 that will eventually be reviewed by the state Department of Health before being distributed. Official training and use of the new devices will take place soon thereafter.
A total of twelve officers, coming from multiple islands, spent time at a two-day training course at the Kihei Police Station in order to familiarize themselves with the new devices. The attending officers will be the ones primarily training other officers.
According to Lieutenant William Hankins, the commander of the police Traffic Section, “The technology is still the same as far as how it analyzes breath readings. It just makes it easier for the officers. Everything’s going to be faster.”
Six devices may not seem like a lot for an entire police department. however, these are not the same devices that patrol officers will have out on the street. The new Intoxilyzer 9000 devices will be analyzing results after the preliminary tests are administered and are to become the tests that are admissible in court.
Each police station in Maui County will have a new Intoxilyzer.
“We always strive to have the most updated technology possible for our officers and our community. It will allow us to get our officers back on the road faster,” said Krau.
I hope that the state departments and various police department heads do their very best to make sure that statement rings true.
A quick Google search revealed that the Intoxilyzer 9000 series has been in circulation as early as 2013. Some of the first states to implement the new model were Georgia and Colorado. Texas made a slower transition as there where a few deficiencies with the device that became apparent after other states had already begun using it but aimed for full implementation in 2015.
Although not quite as new and novel as Krau made it out to be, Hawaii’s implementation of the Intoxilyzer 9000 might signify an emerging trend of modernizing breathalyzers. Perhaps they were merely waiting for all of the deficiencies of the earlier 9000 series to work themselves out.
Back in January, we covered Utah and its new DUI law that lowered their blood alcohol content limit to 0.05 percent. (Utah Now Has the Lowest BAC Limit in the Country)
FOX13 of Salt Lake City did a deep dive into new DUI statistics in Utah since the new law’s start. It was reported by the Utah Department of Public Safety that of the 844 people who had been arrested statewide and 38 of them were arrested for having a blood alcohol concentration of between 0.05 and 0.079.
FOX13 took it a step further and broke down the numbers within the 38 who were arrested.
- 7 were found to be under the legal age of drinking
- 24 were alcohol restricted drivers and had previously been arrested for a DUI
- 2 were arrested with a combination of drugs, either prescription or illegal, in their system along with alcohol
- 1 refused a field sobriety test or chemical blood draw, the results which were positive after a warrant was issued
- 4 were arrested with the BAC being the only issue with the results between 0.05 and 0.079
Interestingly, the number of underage drinking violations do not show a change prevalence and, according to Michele Corgliano of the Salt Lake Are Restaurant Association, the breakdown and its supporting numbers show that the majority of the DUI arrests are not of drivers who registered a BAC that fell within the new lowered range.
“These results are in line with our stand prior to the law: 33 of these arrests would have been illegal under the previous law: underage drinking, drugs, suspended license, etc. This is in line with our research, in that it does NOT show .05 is the reason for impairment,” Corgliano said to FOX13.
The average time it takes for the labs to return with the toxicology results to confirm blood alcohol contents is approximately 60 days. Therefore, we have yet to find out if the more recent months show a similar trend. However, since the time that the new law had been implemented, it seems that most of the arrests were for violations of DUI laws that were already in place before the new 0.05 DUI limit took effect. It may still be too early to make any deductions, but if this trend continues, the effectiveness of the new law could face some scrutiny.
Supporters of the 0.05 DUI law have been focused on the reduction of the crashes, injuries, and deaths, noting that it was never about the number of the arrests, but rather saving more lives from the act of driving under the influence. While that may or may not be true, we do not yet have the numbers of injuries and deaths since the implementation of the new law to determine if this law is making a difference. And having said that, I’m sure they’re not crying that at least some people were arrested under the new lowered BAC limit.
Other states such as California have been contemplating following in Utah’s footsteps and lowering their legal limit from 0.08 percent to 0.05 percent. It will be interesting to see if California lawmakers take into account the numbers that Utah produces before making a decision. Given the aforementioned statistics for Utah’s new law, and if the current trend of seeming ineffectiveness continues, I certainly hope that California takes Utah’s numbers into account.