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DUI Drugs Difficult to Prove in D.C.

by | Apr 17, 2013

Recently in Maryland, state police arrested the driver of a vehicle they believe struck and killed a pedestrian in front of a city hall building, alleging he was under the influence of drugs.

Our D.C. DUI attorneys know that when it comes to DUI cases involving substances other than alcohol, proving impairment can be a challenge for law enforcement and prosecutors.

Here is why:

Even if officers test the quantity of substances in a system – and they often don’t – there is no legal threshold of impairment when it comes to drugs. Some places have tried to implement a standard threshold, particularly with marijuana, but the opposing argument has always centered on the fact that drugs are processed differently than alcohol. Alcohol leaves the system quite rapidly, so testing at a certain threshold makes sense. Even the mere presence of it means consumption was fairly recent.

With drugs, however, the substances may remain in your system for some time after consumption. So even if you test positive for high levels of pain medication or cocaine or marijuana, it doesn’t necessarily mean you were intoxicated on that day or at the time of the incident in question.

What that means is that prosecutors are left to rely heavily on the observations and inferences made by the police officers who were on scene. However, even trained officers are not always adept at spotting drug impairment or at differentiating it from symptoms of other conditions. This is understandable: They aren’t doctors. But it also means their testimony holds less weight in this regard.

That’s why a lot of departments invest a great deal of time and money to train drug recognition experts, or DREs. These are police officers who complete in-depth training courses on how to detect drug impairment and how to differentiate one type of drug impairment from another.

Because of the costs associated with the training (it takes about six months, on average), the number of DRE’s is usually at a minimum, if the department has any at all. In some cases, officers will even call for assistance from neighboring law enforcement agencies to help determine drug impairment.

One police officer in Florida was blunt about the difficulties of obtaining convictions in DUI drug cases, saying these cases are far tougher for them than run-of-the-mill alcohol DUI cases. Officers can find out what substances are in a person’s system, but proving how much or at what time is was consumed is another matter. These cases tend to result in more plea deals and more dropped charges.

In this case, the pedestrian who was fatally struck was a city employee who was reportedly talking on his cell phone at the time of the crash. We don’t yet know whether that cell phone conversation was any sort of a distraction which may have played a role in the crash, though we would expect defense attorneys to explore that option.

Witnesses say the driver was speeding and possibly being chased by a state trooper at the time of the wreck. Some said the speeds of that chase were reaching upward of 100 miles per hour.

If you are facing DUI charges in D.C., contact the Scrofano Law, PC at 202-765-3175.