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How Has Legal Marijuana Affected DUI Rates?Since states first started legalizing recreational marijuana use a couple of years ago, there has been a debate as to whether the new laws have caused an increased number of impaired driving incidents in those states. Those who believe it has caused an increase will cite arrest statistics for driving under the influence charges in which the suspects had THC in their systems. Skeptics argue that the testing procedures do not definitively prove when marijuana use is responsible for impaired driving. With the recency of California’s legalization, it may take years to determine how the new law has affected DUI incidents and arrests.

Bay Area Data

The California Highway Patrol suspects that a San Jose man was under the influence of marijuana when he allegedly caused a fatal crash in Fremont in May. The CHP’s Golden Gate Division released statistics of DUI arrests involving marijuana in 2017, which was before the new marijuana law was enacted. According to the statistics:

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Has Ride-Sharing Decreased DUI Arrests?

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Has Ride-Sharing Decreased DUI Arrests?A recent study by the University of California at Davis and a research firm discovered that arrests for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs have decreased in many major California cities. Researchers found that DUI arrests decreased during a two-year period by:

  • 14 percent in the San Francisco-Oakland area;
  • 14 percent in Los Angeles;
  • 26 percent in Sacramento;
  • 28 percent in San Jose; and
  • 32 percent in San Diego.

Researchers hypothesized that increased use of ride-sharing services may be part of the reason for the decrease, a claim that companies such as Uber have touted for years. The time period of the study corresponded with the introduction of ride-sharing services in some of the cities. However, there is not a clear causation between the use of ride-sharing services and DUI arrest statistics.

How Ride-Sharing Helps

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Why DUI Suspects Can Be Charged with Murder

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Why DUI Suspects Can Be Charged with MurderSecond-degree murder is the most serious charge you can face after an alleged driving under the influence incident. DUI murder charges in California are commonly called Watson murders because the policy stems from the 1980s case of People v. Watson, in which the California Supreme Court ruled that a DUI offender can be charged with murder. A DUI murder conviction can result in a prison sentence of 15 years to life and a fine of as much as $10,000.

Murder vs. Manslaughter

When someone dies as a result of an alleged DUI incident, prosecutors can charge the defendant with negligent vehicular manslaughter, gross vehicular manslaughter, or second-degree murder. Manslaughter is a serious charge but does not have as severe of penalties as murder. Manslaughter is a more common charge than second-degree murder because prosecutors need to prove the intent behind the incident:

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DUI Arrests Are Down, But Not for Women

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DUI Arrests Are Down, But Not for WomenThe number of driving under the influence arrests in the U.S. has steadily decreased in the past decades. At the same time, there has been an unsettling increase in DUI arrests among women. To be clear, men still make up 75 percent of all DUI arrests. However, women were only 18 percent of the arrests as recent as 2003. An FBI study estimated that the number of female DUI arrests increased by 20 percent from 2003 to 2012. The most recent gender data in 2015 showed that the number has decreased slightly, though still nowhere near the 2003 arrest levels. Trying to understand the trend, researchers have largely hypothesized that women’s changing societal role has led to the increase in DUI arrests.

Work-Related Drinking

People in the workforce may partake in drinking as a social activity with co-workers or a means of relieving stress. The trend of an increased number of women in the workforce started long before the more recent increase in DUI arrests. However, women’s statuses in workplaces have seen more recent improvements. Women are more likely to hold positions that are the equal of men and thus may be invited to more social outings at restaurants and bars. DUI arrests often follow a night of drinking with friends or co-workers.

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Recreational Marijuana Brings California's Subjective DUI Laws to LightThe legalization of recreational marijuana in California has led to increased police attention towards driving under the influence of marijuana. DUI of marijuana has long been a crime, with the same penalties as DUI of alcohol. Police officers are looking for the same signs of driver impairment that accompany both DUI of alcohol and drugs. Even physical symptoms can be similar for alcohol and marijuana users, such as blood-shot eyes and slow reactions. However, California’s DUI laws have not caught up to legalized recreational marijuana. Police officers and prosecutors have less experience handling cases of DUI of marijuana than they do with DUI of alcohol. Yet, California law forces them to be more subjective in determining when to arrest and charge someone with DUI of marijuana. There are several problems with DUI of marijuana laws that affect all states where recreational marijuana use is legal:

  1. No Objective Definition of Being High: With DUI of alcohol charges, the results of blood alcohol concentration tests are legally accepted to help determine when someone is impaired by alcohol. California does not yet have an equivalent test to determine when someone is legally impaired by marijuana. Other states that have legalized recreational marijuana use THC levels as an indicator of impairment. However, states do not agree on what the THC limit should be. There is also continued debate on whether THC levels accurately reflect a driver’s impairment.
  2. More Difficult to Test for THC: There is not a breath test that can determine the level of THC in a driver’s system. Blood and urine tests are considered the only reliable ways to detect the presence and level of drugs in a person’s body. Police officers are not qualified to perform such tests in the field. The suspect will likely be transported to a police station or medical facility for the testing. Thus, the police officer will have come to the subjective conclusion that someone should be arrested for DUI of marijuana before the tests are administered.
  3. Misleading Test Results: Traces of drugs such as marijuana stay in a person’s body longer than alcohol. It can take weeks for all traces of THC to dissolve in a person. A blood or urine test may show levels of THC when a driver is no longer impaired by the substance.

Contesting DUI Charges

Arrests and charges for DUI of marijuana mostly rely on subjective observations of whether a driver seemed high. However, more objective laws could be problematic for drivers if they do not accurately measure whether a driver is impaired. With the uncertainty surrounding DUI of marijuana laws, you need an experienced attorney to represent you. A San Francisco DUI defense attorney at Burglin Law Offices, P.C., can identify ways to contest your DUI charge. To schedule a free consultation, call 415-729-7300.

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