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Stoned Driving Charges and Brainerd, MN Drug Crime Lawyers

by | Jan 17, 2020 | Criminal Defense, DWI, Firm News

The marijuana legalization movement has stalled recently, but it is probably only a matter of time before weed is legal in Minnesota. Legalization would be a game-changer for drug possession cases, but probably not affect DUI charges at all. Under existing law, alcohol is only one substance that could trigger DUI charges in Crow Wing County. Marijuana, legal or not, could do likewise.

Evidence is the main difference between a drunk driving case and a stoned driving case. Most drivers provide chemical samples, and if the sample is above the legal limit, the defendant may be guilty as a matter of law. Stoned driving cases, however, have many moving parts. Generally, the state must depend on circumstantial evidence and “experts” who do not really qualify as such.

These proof problems make stoned driving cases a bit easier for Brainerd, MN drug crime lawyers to resolve. Wright County prosecutors normally do not reduce DUI charges to reckless driving or another lesser-included offense. So, an aggressive defense that challenges the state’s evidence is the best, and sometimes only, way to successfully resolve these matters.

To prove guilt in a stoned driving case, prosecutors must establish the following three elements beyond a reasonable doubt.

Under the Influence

As mentioned, most alcohol DUI prosecutions involve chemical samples. If the defendant provides a sample, a Brainerd, MN drug crime lawyer must normally cast doubt on the sample’s reliability. Showing such doubt is quite difficult but not impossible.

Alternatively, another defense might be available. For example, the defendant might not have been “operating” the vehicle under Minnesota law. Or, police might have pulled over the defendant on private property, like a shopping mall parking lot. These places are always private property, even if they have street names and traffic control devices, like stop signs.

Stoned driving cases are different. To establish this first element, prosecutors normally rely on the three approved field sobriety tests, which are:

  • Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus: The DUI eye test determines if the defendant has nystagmus, which is also called lazy eye. This test is quite accurate if done under controlled conditions. But roadside HGN tests do not occur under controlled conditions. For example, flashing squad car lights cause flicker vertigo, a condition that could skew the test results.
  • Walk and Turn: The heel-to-toe walk test requires defendants to walk a straight line forward and backward placing heel to toe while keeping their hands at their sides. This test has some flaws as well. For example, in many roadside WAT tests, the defendant must walk an imaginary line. That’s much harder than walking an actual line.
  • One-Leg Stand: Much like the WAT, the OLS is a divided attention test that measures physical dexterity and mental clarity. Also like the WAT, officers often testify that the defendant “failed” the OLS because of minor technicalities. However, the jury has the final say as to who passed and who failed these tests.

In Minnesota, the field sobriety tests also include a portable Breathalyzer test. But there is no Breathalyzer for marijuana use, at least not yet.

To bolster the FST results, an increasing number of prosecutors use Drug Recognition Expert testimony. These individuals are officers who have some additional training in this area. Supposedly, this training enables them to recognize when a person is stoned. However, they usually acquired all this training at a police-sponsored seminar.

Furthermore, Brainerd, MN drug crime lawyers can bring up the self-fulfilling prophecy problem. Arresting officers summon DREs to DUI scenes to confirm the defendant’s drug use. Typically, if you look for a quality in a person, you will find it, whether it is there or not.

Controlled or Intoxicating Substance

Currently, this element is easy to establish. Marijuana is a controlled substance under both state and federal law. In a drugged driving case, prosecutors need not produce the substance. The old “I smelled marijuana smoke” testimony is usually sufficient.

If marijuana’s legal status changes, prosecutors must establish that the substance was intoxicating. There is a general consensus that marijuana intoxicates drivers, but the consensus is far from universal. There is very little hard, scientific evidence on this point. The evidence is mostly anecdotal.

Brainerd, MN Drug Crime Lawyers and Knowledge of Possible Intoxication

On a related note, the state must also prove the defendant knew the substance was intoxicating. In many drugged driving cases, this point is also easy to show. Hard street drugs, like cocaine and LSD, are impairing. Prescription and over-the-counter drugs, like Oxycontin and NyQuil, have written warnings.

However, due to the lack of consensus about marijuana, this element is more difficult to establish in stoned driving cases, at least beyond a reasonable doubt.

There is a catch. Normally, a Brainerd, MN drug crime lawyer must allow the defendant to testify to establish a lack of knowledge. This is a high risk/high reward strategy. When defendants tell their side of the story, jurors often respond favorably. However, the defendant is exposed to cross-examination, and that could end very badly.

Connect with an Experienced Attorney

Stones driving charges often do not hold up in court. For a free consultation with an experienced Brainerd, MN drug crime lawyer, contact Carlson & Jones, P.A. We routinely handle matters in Crow Wing County and nearby jurisdictions.