DUI while not under the influence?
Executive John Smith, an executive at Golden Sax, a global financial management company travels from his home in Salt Lake to Denver for a meeting. While in Denver he takes in a Broncos game and decides to smoke a little marijuana- legally purchased and legally smoked under Colorado State law (marijuana remains federally illegal).
Months later, John is driving home from his office on Main Street after a late night at the office. On his way home he is pulled over by SLPD for a so called moving violation. John’s eyes are blood shot, and he is tired, from his long day of working and staring at a computer screen. The officer is suspicious and asks him to perform the field sobriety tests(FST). He submits to and fails the FST and the officer arrests him for DUI. John is unsure if he did the heel-to-toe turn incorrectly, if an unnatural alphabet arrangement tricked him, or if it is just because he never finds himself standing on one leg. As a part of their investigation, the police obtain a blood sample from John. John is 100% confident that he will not be charged with a crime because he has not been drinking. John doesn’t even consider the marijuana he smoked months ago. However, John is subsequently charged in the Salt Lake City justice court for DUI. John now faces the suspension of his Utah license, and other steep penalties.
John is in disbelief, but this is an all too common scenario. John may be, and can be charged with DUI under present Utah law.
Currently, Utah drivers can be prosecuted for having “any measurable amount” of a controlled substance, or its metabolite, in their body while driving – regardless of whether they are impaired or noticeably affected by the substance. The “Metabolite DUI” statute is found in the Utah Code Annotated, section 41-6a-517. A metabolite is the remaining chemical parts of any consumed thing broken down by the human body. Marijuana metabolites are stored in lipid (fat) deposits and can remain in a person’s body for an indeterminate amount of time after the active THC has left their system. Marijuana metabolites may leave a persons body in as little as a few days or longer than a few months. Further, the metabolites are inactive, and do not cause impairment or any of the effects of the consumed drug. The Utah statute, however, doesn’t distinguish between an active metabolite or an inactive metabolite.
It is scientifically undisputed that a pharmacologically inactive metabolite has no impact on an individual’s mental or physical capabilities. Meaning that there is no correlation between pharmacologically inactive metabolites and dangerous driving. The metabolite statute punishes people not for their present impairment and but for their previous use of a controlled substance. As many as 17 states have this nonsensical law and of course Utah has the distinction of being one of them.
Some states are rejecting these laws. In April of this year the Arizona Supreme Court rejected a 1990 state law that classified the presence of inert THC metabolites in blood or urine as a per se traffic safety violation. In Utah the statue has only been challenged unsuccessfully; the previous challenge was on equal protection grounds.
Unfortunately for our driver John, he will likely suffer the heavy penalties associated with a DUI even though he was “not driving under the influence.” In Utah, and at the Salt Lake City Justice court- or other Utah justice courts, the penalties can range from a fine totallying more than $1,000, the loss or suspension of your license, mandatory drug and alcohol counseling, mandatory community service or jail time, court probation, and perhaps other methods of monitoring your drug or alcohol consumption.
It should be noted that despite these nonsensical laws, DUIs can be and are successfully defended. Our firm advocates for Utah DUI defendants through tactics such as challenging the initial stop, the administration of the field sobriety tests, filing motions to suppress evidence, and contesting the need or cause to have blood drawn.