Typically, when most people think about DUI, they think about people going out to bars and having too much to drink and then driving drunk. While this has received much of the focus of the media and law enforcement, there is a push among law enforcement agencies to get tough on drivers who are under the influence of drugs. This has become especially relevant with our neighbors across the river in DC legalizing the recreational use of marijuana. Why, you might ask? Primarily because being under the influence of marijuana and driving is a crime in Virginia.
Virginia’s DUI Law
As most people know, Virginia law strictly criminalizes driving under the influence of alcohol at a blood alcohol concentration at or above .08% and creates a presumption of impairment. The same law also prohibits driving a vehicle while under the influence of any narcotic or intoxicant that impairs the driver’s ability to drive safely. Marijuana is considered a Schedule One drug by the Federal government and clearly falls within Virginia’s definition of intoxicant and illegal drug. Therefore, driving after ingesting marijuana puts a driver in jeopardy of being charged with DUI.
How Do the Police Know to Charge?
A marijuana DUI situation is very similar to an alcohol DUI. First, the police must have a reason to pull a driver over. Often, it is failing to maintain the lane, improper safety equipment, aggressive driving, inconsistent starting and stopping or maintaining very slow or fast speeds. Once there is reason to pull over the driver, the officer begins to develop probable cause. This can be done in a myriad of ways, just like with alcohol. The officer will question the suspect, asking where the driver has been, where they are going, and if they have consumed alcohol or illegal drugs. Depending on the answers and the behavior of the driver and passengers, the officer may decide that more investigation is necessary.
The officer may invite the driver out of the car. When this happens, the officer is taking careful note of the driver’s ability to function normally whether by action, speech, or response to stimuli. He will look carefully at the driver’s eyes, especially if he suspects illegal drug use, to detect redness and dilation. Further, he will pay careful attention to what his nose tells him. Marijuana is a lot like alcohol in one respect – it has a very distinct odor. What’s more, it insinuates itself into clothing, skin, and hair and is often easily noticeable. If the officer smells marijuana coupled with other behaviors consistent with marijuana usage, he then most likely has developed enough probable cause to arrest the driver for DUI. As incident to the arrest, he then will search the interior of the car and, if he finds marijuana, will also charge the driver with possession of marijuana in addition. It must be noted, as well, that if the police can establish possession, the prosecution will most likely use this information as evidence to help prove the DUI charge, as well.
Marijuana DUI can be incredibly subjective, based on the observations of the officer. There is no blood test given and no legal limit. It is up to the accused and the defense attorney he or she selects to combat the charges. Jad Sarsour has years of experience with charges like this and hundreds of satisfied clients. If you are facing marijuana possession or marijuana DUI charge in Northern Virginia, you need the best representation you can get. Give him a call at (571) 261-7314 to set up your initial consultation. You are facing serious charges and need a zealous defense.