Friday, April 20, 2018

Drugged driving in Tornado Alley

I saw a tweet on Twitter yesterday about a six-state initiative to cut down on drugged driving. This weekend in Arkansas, Kansas, Iowa, Missouri and Oklahoma, police will be "cracking" down on drugged driving in an initiative cleverly titled Driving High? Kiss Your License Goodbye.

There's just one little problem. While alcohol mixes with the blood in the lungs which allows the use of a breath test to estimate the amount of alcohol in a person's body, drugs don't.

With alcohol we can trace a curve showing the accumulation of alcohol in a person's body and we can calculate (or, as I prefer, guesstimate) the length of time it will take that person to eliminate the alcohol. We can't do that with drugs. Since marijuana is illegal, there has been no testing to determine accumulation or elimination rates.

Furthermore, with alcohol we can pick a concentration that demarcates the line between being intoxicated and not being intoxicated. We can quibble over the number but there is testing data available that shows the effect of higher levels of alcohol over time. No such luck with drugs.

I think I can visualize how this initiative is going to work. The police will conduct a traffic stop on anyone committing a minor traffic (or equipment) violation after hours. If the person has the odor of an alcoholic beverage on their breath it will become a DWI stop, complete with roadside sobriety tests and breath or blood tests at the scene or at the station. If the person doesn't have the odor of an alcoholic beverage on their breath it will become a drugged driving stop since there can't possibly be any other reason a motorist might be speeding, not using a turn signal or driving with a burned out tail light.

Those accused and arrested for drugged driving will have to wait weeks for the results of blood tests to come back. Prosecutors will then argue that the presence of inactive metabolites for any number of drugs are evidence that the motorist was under the influence of drugs at the time of driving. Little thought or consideration will be given to the fact that the inactive metabolites of many drugs find their ways to the body's fatty tissues where they stay, not bothering anyone or anything, for anywhere from three days to a month.

Prosecutors will also argue that the presence of prescription medications indicates the motorist was driving under the influence of drugs, too. Little consideration will be given to the actual concentration of the drug in the body or whether or not that concentration is lesser or greater than a therapeutic dosage. Prosecutors will argue that the presence of alcohol and any prescription medication is a clear sign of intoxication without regard for the actual chemistry of the substances involved.

But, hey, with strong Fourth Amendment protections and judges who take seriously their gatekeeper role when it comes to scientific evidence, there's nothing to worry about this weekend in Tornado Alley, is there?

h/t Marine Glisovic and Shane Ethridge

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