For law enforcement officers, determining whether a driver is under the influence of drugs remains a challenge. Even if there are found to be drugs in a person's system, proving that they impacted his or her driving is another matter. Particularly problematic is marijuana. The active ingredient in marijuana, THC, can remain in a person's system long after the drug was ingested. Further, there are no specific legal limits for the amount of a particular drug that can be in someone's system, as there are for alcohol.
Program Would Be Tested in 5 Counties
Now Maryland state legislators in both houses have passed a bill that would create a pilot program in five of the state's counties. It would allow police officers to test drivers for drugs by taking a sample of their saliva on the scene. The next stop for the bill is the desk of Gov. Rick Snyder.
Under the proposed program, a police officer can call a specially-certified drug recognition expert in the police force to the scene of a traffic stop or accident to administer a roadside test using a swab-based drug detection kit. As of this February, nearly 100 officers had that certification.
Critics: Law Would Set a "Dangerous Precedent"
The legislation has faced criticism by criminal defense attorneys and others. One attorney said that a law allowing roadside drug tests would set a "dangerous precedent." He said that a pilot program "treats people as guinea pigs to be studied."
If Gov. Snyder signs the bill into law, it will be named for a couple who was killed in 2013 when they were struck by a tractor-trailer. Following the fatal collision, a blood test revealed that the driver had THC in his system. He's was convicted of charges including DUI causing death and faces a minimum of more than five years in prison. It was the couple's son who urged a Michigan state senator to work on developing a "reasonable standard" for drug testing.
Without a limit for the amount of drugs that can legally be in one's system on the books, prosecutors can have difficulty securing convictions. However, if a driver tests positive for drugs, that evidence could sway a judge or jury in a case where the driver harmed or killed someone. Criminal defense attorneys can work to help prevent or mitigate legal consequences for a defendant, particularly in cases where he or she wasn't obviously impaired at the time of the crash.
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