The reality is that the legalization of marijuana in California did not do much to change the DUI laws. I have seen law enforcement officers ramping up their efforts to help the prosecutors prove that a particular person they arrest for a DUI is, in fact, not safe to operate a motor vehicle.
The powers have come up with more and more sophisticated methods for testing the level of marijuana intoxication and even special prosecutors to deal with marijuana DUI prosecutions. DUI's are still a political target on the radar of the police, prosecutors, and judges.
For purposes of the DUI law, the bottom line is that if someone ingests anything that impacts their ability to operate a motor vehicle safely, they can and will be charged and convicted of a DUI.
This includes marijuana, alcohol, and even legal prescription drugs. I can not tell you how many clients I have defended over the years who have ingested the medication their doctor prescribed them, and the police pulled them over, could not pass the field sobriety tests, and were arrested and charged with a DUI. The critical policy concerns related to DUI's has to do with protecting the public and making sure that people do not jeopardize other people's lives on the road.
Differences Between Marijuana and Alcohol-Related DUI
When it comes to alcohol-related DUI cases, it is pretty straightforward whether a person is over the legal limit at first glance. If their blood alcohol level is .08 or greater, then they will be considered over the legal limit for purposes of a DUI.
Marijuana is much more challenging to measure, and it can stay in your system for a much more extended period than alcohol. This makes marijuana DUI cases harder to prove and more subject to people being mistreated in the name of protecting the public.
Further, there is no set limit for purposes of marijuana as to what the cut-off is for the prosecutors to prove that you could not safely operate a motor vehicle.
Someone could be pulled over and arrested for a marijuana DUI, even though they did not smoke any marijuana the day of the arrest. This problem is still being argued and fought all over Los Angeles County in the various courthouses that deal with DUI-related arrests.
Prosecutors, judges, and even juries will ultimately take into the surrounding circumstances of your arrest in determining whether or not you deserve to have a DUI conviction on your criminal record.
Proving You Couldn't Safely Operate a Motor Vehicle
The best way for the prosecutors to prove that you could not safely operate a motor vehicle is to show that you did not pass the various tests that the police will give you before and after they arrest you for a DUI case.
They will observe how you were driving (where you are swerving or driving erratic), they will see how you were walking when you exited your car (where you staggering or unable to gain your balance), they will check your breath to see if it smelled like marijuana or alcohol, your speech when you talk to them will be evaluated (where you are slurring your words) and a whole host of other factors will be assessed in determining if someone is under the influence of marijuana to the point that they could not safely operate a motor vehicle.
Probably the biggest weapon that the police have in their never-ending crusade against DUI's is the field sobriety tests that they administer at the scene of just about every arrest for a DUI they make.
They have a whole arsenal of tests they use for marijuana DUI cases. Further, I have seen them using the alcohol-related tests in marijuana cases and just being destroyed on cross-examination by a seasoned DUI defense attorney.
The bottom line, when it comes to a DUI in Los Angeles, is that California and particularly LA and surrounding counties have some of the harshest DUI laws in the country and if you are not safe on the road. They catch you; they will do everything to convict you and get you in the system.
This is where you must have a seasoned DUI defense attorney with you at all critical stages of a DUI case.