Sobriety Checkpoints and Marijuana Use: A New Situation

Sobriety Checkpoints and Marijuana Use: A New Situation

New Technologies for New Law Enforcement Problems

California is one of the many states that use sobriety checkpoints to crack down on DUIs. Typically, motorists who are stopped are asked a few questions and may be asked to submit to a field sobriety test or a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) test. These tests can easily catch drunk drivers, but what about drugged drivers? With the recent legalization of recreational marijuana use, California law enforcement officers find themselves having to catch drugged drivers using the same methods they use to catch drunk drivers. But those methods aren’t comprehensive enough to accurately measure whether a driver has drugs in his or her system.

At sobriety checkpoints, law enforcement must keep traffic moving through at a reasonable pace. This is one of the requirements that must be met for the checkpoint to be legal. Thus, they have to minimize the amount of time they stop each motorist and conduct the check quickly. They may ask a few questions and take a quick look at the inside of the vehicle. Motorists are sent on their way if the officer doesn’t detect anything. If the officer does suspect the motorist was driving under the influence, they may be asked to step out and complete a field sobriety test and/or a breathalyzer test.

This is an effective method to catch drunk drivers, but what about drivers under the influence of marijuana? Up until recently, law enforcement had few ways to quickly and accurately test for marijuana use at a sobriety checkpoint. Standardized field sobriety tests are notoriously hard to pass, and even sober people can easily fail. They may be enough to find probable cause to arrest a driver, but the results of a field sobriety test alone may not be enough to convict one. And BAC tests do not detect drug use. The recent legalization of marijuana use put pressure on law enforcement operating these checkpoints to catch drugged drivers using only subjective measurements. Not surprisingly, law enforcement didn’t take long to adopt a new method that is already in use in many other states: the mouth swab test.

A Quick and Convenient Test

Mouth swab tests are commonly used for drug testing in treatment programs or when court ordered. It’s an easy, quick, and less invasive way to test for drug use when compared to blood or hair follicle testing. These tests can detect a wide range of drugs in someone’s system and can now be run using a device similar to a breathalyzer, making them an effective and convenient way for police officers to detect drugged drivers. Now used in DUI stops, these tests are changing the way California law enforcement makes DUI arrests.

While these devices will make it easier for law enforcement to make DUI arrests, the results are typically backed up by blood tests ran after the defendant is arrested. By removing some of the burden of determining whether someone is impaired based on observations alone, they will help law enforcement make more informed decisions in the field. One drawback is they also provide one more method of proving someone was under the influence of drugs while driving. This is complicated by the fact that marijuana can remain in someone’s system long after the high is gone. Another drawback is the cost of the devices, which run around $5,000-$6,000. Given the cost, the use of these devices may vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

Marijuana DUI cases are far from straightforward. Whenever facing DUI charges for driving under the influence of marijuana, you should speak with a qualified California DUI defense attorney in your area. An experienced DUI defense attorney will be familiar with the specific practices of law enforcement in your county. An attorney can also help you fight your charges and increase your chance of getting the outcome you want.

Being arrested for a DUI is stressful, but experienced Visalia area DUI defense attorney Christopher Martens can help you face your charges. At The Law Offices of Christopher Martens, we can help you build a strategic defense to fight your charges. Attorney Martens has practiced criminal defense for over ten years and knows how to defend your rights.  Contact our Visalia or Hanford offices at 559-967-7386 or email us at MartensLaw@gmail.com to discuss a possible plan of action for your case.

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