A police officer can arrest a person for driving under the influence of marijuana or a marijuana DUI if marijuana intoxication impairs their driving abilities. Although individuals in California can lawfully use marijuana recreationally, they may not operate a motor vehicle under the influence of marijuana.
Many people forget that legal marijuana does not make it legal to drive after using marijuana. California takes these offenses seriously, as the state wants to reduce the drug-involved accidents that happen each year. Even using a small amount of marijuana can result in an arrest and charges for DUI.
If an individual sustains a marijuana DUI conviction, they may be looking at serious penalties, including high monetary fines and jail time. An individual may incur penalties similar to those associated with an alcohol DUI conviction. However, unlike a DUI involving alcohol, a marijuana DUI does not have a per se limit of intoxication.
If you are currently pending a criminal drug or alcohol charge, you must have legal representation in your corner as soon as possible. A marijuana DUI defense attorney can meet with you to discuss the circumstances surrounding your criminal arrest and charge. Your lawyer can then help you develop a plan of action for moving your case forward.
In some instances, that may mean formulating a strong legal defense to use in court. At other times your lawyer can negotiate a favorable plea deal with the state prosecutor handling your criminal case.
Your criminal defense attorney can represent you at every stage of the proceedings and ensure your rights remain protected. Also, your lawyer can appear with you at all court proceedings, including a bench or jury trial, and zealously advocate for your legal interests. Your lawyer will do everything possible to help you achieve the best possible result in your marijuana DUI case.
What Is a Marijuana DUI?
A police officer can arrest someone for a marijuana DUI if they drive a motor vehicle while under the influence of any type of intoxicating drug, including marijuana. In addition, the drug or drugs must impair the driver’s physical and mental abilities to such an extent that they cannot operate their vehicle safely and carefully.
Under the law, a police officer can arrest an individual for marijuana DUI even if they did not visibly observe the person driving. Rather, they may demonstrate this element through circumstantial evidence. However, just sitting behind the steering wheel is insufficient for a police officer to arrest someone for a marijuana DUI.
This is true even if the driver has the motor running at that time. An officer can only initiate an arrest if the driver intentionally performs a physical action necessary to start operating a vehicle.
Also, under the law, a driver is legally under the influence of marijuana when their mental and physical capabilities are impaired because of consuming cannabis. This impairment must further prevent them from operating their vehicle safely or carefully.
The Burden of Proof in a Marijuana DUI Case
In a marijuana DUI case, as in any criminal case, the handling state prosecutor has the sole legal burden of proof. This means that they must establish that the driver operates their vehicle while under the influence of marijuana or some other drug. Moreover, the prosecutor must satisfy their legal burden beyond a reasonable doubt. In some instances, this can be a high burden for the prosecutor to overcome.
On the other hand, the driver does not need to prove anything in a marijuana DUI case. In fact, they do not even need to take the witness stand and testify at a criminal jury or bench trial because of the driver’s Fifth Amendment constitutional right against self-incrimination. Rather, the sole legal burden of proof rests with the state prosecutor.
To satisfy their legal burden, the prosecutor may introduce various types of evidence in the case. For example, they might call upon a responding police officer to testify on the witness stand as to their version of events leading up to the marijuana DUI arrest. For example, the police officer can testify about the driver’s statements, their performance on a field sobriety test, their driving patterns, or the presence of marijuana and drug paraphernalia in their vehicle.
The officer can also testify about the physical symptoms of marijuana intoxication they observed. Those symptoms often include rapid breathing, dilated pupils, delayed reaction time, and red eyes.
The prosecutor can also introduce a chemical test, such as a blood or urine test, and have an expert authenticate the test results on the witness stand. The prosecutor may call a drug recognition expert to testify in court to support their version of events.
Unlike in an alcohol DUI case, the state prosecutor does not need to prove that the driver had a certain amount of marijuana in their system to satisfy their legal burden in the case. This is primarily because many experts cannot agree upon a sufficient level of cannabis that needs to be in a driver’s system for them to exhibit the effects of impairment.
Potential Penalties for a Conviction of Marijuana DUI
For you to incur penalties on a marijuana DUI charge, the state prosecutor must satisfy all of the legal elements of their case and secure a conviction against you. If that happens, a sentencing judge will determine the penalties to impose in your case.
Every marijuana DUI case is different. Therefore, the penalties you receive will depend on various factors, including the circumstances surrounding and leading up to your arrest, the amount of marijuana found in your system, and whether or not you have prior convictions on your record. Another important factor is whether or not you caused an accident that led to someone else’s injuries or death.
When assessing penalties, judges typically have to follow state minimum and maximum guidelines, which the legislature adjusts from time to time. However, judges have discretion when assigning penalties in criminal DUI cases.
On a first-time DUI offense that involves alcohol or drugs, the driver may incur a maximum of six months in jail upon conviction. They may also have to pay a monetary fine ranging from $390 to $1,000 and attend three or nine months of DUI classes. They will also encourage a driver’s license suspension.
For a second or third DUI conviction, the penalties significantly increase. For example, a person who sustains a third DUI conviction may spend between 120 days and one year in jail, along with monetary fines of between $390 and $1000. They may also have to attend thirty months of DUI classes and have their license revoked for three years. However, they can petition for a restricted license after eighteen months.
A conviction for misdemeanor DUI where someone else suffers an injury may result in between five days and one year of incarceration, a monetary fine of between $390 and $5000, restitution to the injured accident victim, DUI school, and a license revocation of between one and three years.
Finally, a felony DUI conviction where someone else sustains injuries can lead to between six months and sixteen years in prison, monetary fines between $1015 and $5000, restitution to the injured accident victim, DUI school, and a license revocation that lasts for five years.
If you ultimately sustained a DUI conviction, an experienced defense lawyer can represent you at your sentencing hearing and argue for a fair penalty on your behalf.
Collateral Consequences of a Marijuana DUI Arrest or Conviction
In addition to the potential legal penalties surrounding a DUI conviction, an offender may also have to deal with certain collateral consequences that may affect various aspects of their life.
For example, an individual with a DUI conviction on their record may find it difficult to obtain admission to an educational institution, such as a college or university. This is because college personnel typically perform criminal background checks on applicants. If they uncover a marijuana DUI conviction on the applicant’s record, they are less likely to admit them to the institution. Moreover, if you are a current student and receive scholarship funds or financial aid, the college or university may revoke that assistance, depending upon their policies.
Convicted marijuana DUI offenders may also have difficulty getting hired for certain jobs - especially jobs that require a clean driving record. Commercial drivers might even lose their commercial driver’s license (CDL) if they receive a marijuana DUI conviction. This prevents them from earning a living in their chosen profession.
A knowledgeable marijuana DUI defense lawyer can represent you at your sentencing hearing and work to minimize or eliminate the collateral consequences you face due to your criminal conviction.
Possible Defenses to a Marijuana DUI Charge
Many experts challenge the validity of chemical drug testing and argue whether marijuana intoxication truly impairs a driver’s abilities. Consequently, there are ample opportunities for a lawyer to raise defenses in court on an individual‘s behalf.
To challenge chemical test results, a defense lawyer might call an expert of their own to the witness stand in support of the driver’s case. That expert may testify that given the amount of marijuana in their system, their driving abilities were not compromised while they were on the road.
In addition, a criminal defense attorney can raise Fourth Amendment violations as a defense in court. For example, a defense attorney can allege that the police officer initiated an invalid or random traffic stop and that any subsequent evidence obtained is subject to suppression.
Likewise, a lawyer might argue that a police officer continued to question a driver post-arrest, even after the driver asserted their Fifth-amendment rights to the presence of counsel during questioning. In that instance, any incriminating answers may be subject to suppression at trial.
Next, a defense attorney may argue that environmental factors affected a driver’s performance on a field sobriety test. For example, if the driver suffers from a balance condition that affects their balance, they may not have performed a heel-to-toe walking test properly, even if sober. Moreover, they might suffer from a medical condition that affects their pupils and which may produce a false result on a horizontal gaze nystagmus test.
A knowledgeable criminal defense attorney in your area can determine your eligibility for raising one or more of these defenses. If you are eligible, your lawyer can advance the defense on your behalf in court and work to obtain a favorable result in your case.
Contact an Experienced Marijuana DUI Defense Attorney Today
If you face criminal DUI or drug charges, you need an experienced criminal defense lawyer in your corner representing you at every stage of your case. Generally speaking, you will find yourself with better chances of success in court the earlier you retain experienced legal counsel.
A criminal defense attorney needs to have sufficient time to meet with you and prepare a strong legal argument for your case. They may also need to retain an expert who can testify in court on your behalf. These steps can take a significant amount of time. If you wait too long, a lawyer may not have sufficient time to enter an appearance and represent you throughout your case.
Showing up to court without having a lawyer present can be a serious mistake. Further, leaving your defense attorney with no time to prepare can also hurt your situation if the judge will not postpone your hearing. Put yourself in the best position by consulting with a DUI lawyer immediately after an arrest.
A knowledgeable marijuana DUI defense attorney can start advocating for you immediately. Your lawyer can help you formulate a strong defense to your criminal charge and advance that defense on your behalf in court. Moreover, if the state prosecutor places a plea deal on the table, your lawyer can negotiate on your behalf and let you know whether you should accept or reject the deal. Your attorney will do everything possible to help you secure a favorable legal result in your criminal marijuana DUI case.