Does the Presence of THC in a Person’s Blood Mean They Are Impaired by Marijuana?
No, if the test is showing only the presence of the metabolite, it has no relationship to being under the influence of marijuana.
I Use Marijuana Regularly but Not While Driving. Could I Still Be Prosecuted for a Marijuana DWI in New Jersey?
Yes, provided the officer based his decision to have you get out of your car and submit to field sobriety testing on something more than just the odor or possession of marijuana. If the request for having you exit your car is based solely on the odor or possession of marijuana, the officer would face criminal prosecution.
What Does the Prosecutor Have to Show to Prove a Marijuana DWI In New Jersey?
Once the State establishes reasonable suspicion to make the motor vehicle stop, reasonable suspicion to have you get out of the car, and probable cause to arrest based on factors other than the odor or possession of marijuana, the prosecution must persuade the Court beyond a reasonable doubt that you were impaired by marijuana or some other substance. Impairment need not be linked to any particular substance, so long as the proofs justify conviction by the Court.
What Evidence Would Police Need to Prove a Drug-Related or Marijuana DWI in Court?
The State’s proofs in a marijuana-intoxication case are the same as those in any DWI case–e.g., general observations other than odor, balance, statements, admissions, field sobriety testing, and like. Certainly, driving under the influence of marijuana or drugs is much more difficult to prove than driving while under the influence of alcohol. But in many cases, a prosecutor can still get a conviction based on general observations, physical coordination, statements, and admissions, among other things.
Will My Driver’s License Be Suspended for a Marijuana DWI?
Yes. If convicted as a first offender while driving under the influence of drugs, a driver faces forfeiture of driving privileges from seven to 12 months, among other penalties. That person would be prohibited from driving under any circumstances and would be ineligible for any kind of limited driver’s license. This hard driving privilege forfeiture is different from that for alcohol DWI penalties, where there can effectively be no driving privilege forfeiture if a breath test result is under a 0.15. If a breath test result is above a 0.15, the driver faces a hard forfeiture of four to six months. With alcohol related first-offense convictions, the driver would be required to have an alcohol ignition interlock device [“AIID”] installed in the car principally operated by that person. But a person convicted of driving while under the influence of marijuana or other drugs would not be required to have an AIID.
With second or subsequent offenders, the penalties for driving under the influence of drugs and driving under the influence of alcohol are the same–i.e., driving privilege forfeiture, AIID restrictions, jail, community service, attendance at an Intoxicated Driver Resource Center, and financial assessments, among other things.
What Are Potential Defenses to Marijuana DWIs in New Jersey?
The same as for any DWI charge–i.e., that the evidence simply fails to establish that the person is under the influence. In balance testing, many things can cause impairment that have nothing to do with alcohol or marijuana–things like being tired, nervous, distracted or having a prior injury or chronic condition. All these things cause impairment but are not illegal. If those things potentially explain the impairment described by the officer as a reasonable alternative to impairment caused by alcohol, marijuana, or other impairing substance, there should be reasonable doubt and a not guilty finding.
What Other Thoughts Do You Have on the Legalization of Marijuana in New Jersey?
Many. But just as to DWI, the new law decriminalizing and legalizing marijuana may lead to more DWI arrests because the officers are going to want to avoid the possibility of facing criminal charges against themselves. DWI is a very convenient reason to justify an otherwise questionable arrest.
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