Within the context of drunk driving prosecutions, it is most common for those within the general public to associate impaired driving with the use of alcohol.
Conditioned by decades of legal practice and public relations campaigns warning citizens as to the dangers of, “drinking” and driving, it is quite understandable to expect confusion among many people as to the role that impairment from drugs can have when assessing potential dui punishments.
Not only can a driver in Indiana be arrested for owi through impairment as a result of drug use, but can also be prosecuted for merely having traces of a particular illegal drug in one’s bloodstream during the course of any alleged driving activity. As evidence of drugs such as Marijuana can remain within the body for weeks after a traffic stop, evidence of impairment is not required of Indiana prosecutors to initiate criminal proceedings.
It is this fact that is most unsettling to many assessing criminal legal practices within the state of Indiana. For what our laws essentially say on the subject of driving with drugs is that if caught operating a motor vehicle with any evidence of drugs in one’s system, criminal charges can be initiated.
To be clear, this reality means that even if state county prosecutors cannot prove any evidence against a driver to infer impaired driving activity, the mere evidence of a driver’s usage of drugs is legally sufficient to prosecute and move for the suspension of the individual’s driving privileges.
Consequently, dui prosecutions can now ensnare both drinking and driving as well as drug use when operating a motor vehicle. Where impairment is not alleged, the criminal offense of operating a motor vehicle with a drug/metabolite within one’s system will allow for an alternative form of prosecution that will also potentially restrict and/or suspend an Indiana driver’s license.
This reality is especially relevant to a discussion as to the widespread legalization and/or decriminalization of Marijuana seen within more and more states each year. As a licensed defense lawyer within this state only, I cannot speak to the existence of other metabolite non impairment type criminal offenses presently existing within states that have seen fit to liberalize laws in regard to use of Marijuana.
However, many nationwide must be particularly mindful that legal use of Marijuana in one state does not preclude prosecution for merely driving with pot within one’s system within another state’s criminal jurisdiction. Although I would find it to be completely irrational, (although not an uncommon undertaking to confront irrational laws passed each year) it should be a required effort among those engaged in medical marijuana usage or legal recreational usage to understand whether any non impairment/metabolite legislation has presently been imposed within one’s respective state.
In so doing, one who partakes in Marijuana in what he or she may believe to be in a legal fashion will not find themselves subject to a potential criminal prosecution as a result of the legal ingestion of Marijuana uncovered by virtue of a lawful traffic stop.
Using a somewhat comparable analogy, remember that the possession and use of alcohol is lawful for adults within all fifty states; it is the presence of alcohol above certain levels within the bloodstream when driving that is illegal.
Not unlike the ability to be prosecuted in Indiana for merely testing at or above a .08 bac level irrespective of proven impairment, do not expect an out of state tolerance and/or legality for Marijuana to insulate one from criminal prosecution within an Indiana courtroom.