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California Drivers Need Greater Clarity on Marijuana DUI ViolationsCalifornia had time to prepare for the legalization of recreational marijuana since voters passed Proposition 64 in November 2016. Even before that, there was legalized use of marijuana for medicinal purposes. However, California has yet to answer an important question related to recreational marijuana use: How much marijuana must a driver have in their system in order to be legally impaired? Drivers know that the legal limit for alcohol is a 0.08 blood alcohol concentration and approximately how much alcohol they can consume before they reach that limit. California drivers and police officers can only guess how much marijuana is needed to make someone legally impaired, which puts marijuana users at a disadvantage when they are trying to be safe drivers.

Uncertain Answer

To be fair, it is difficult to quantify the point at which marijuana in a person’s body impairs a driver’s function enough to be a violation of DUI laws. The scientific consensus is that tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) levels are the closest equivalent to BAC levels, but THC can linger in a person’s body for weeks after marijuana use, by which point any impairing effects have subsided. Amongst the states that have legalized recreational marijuana, only Colorado has created a THC limit. Prosecutors in that state can bring DUI charges against a driver who has five nanograms of active THC in their blood. Still, Colorado says that officers should primarily rely on observational signs of impairment when determining whether to arrest someone for DUI.

Upcoming Studies

California officials have recognized their lack of knowledge about the relationship between marijuana use and impaired driving. California recently enacted a law that authorizes the California Highway Patrol to conduct a study of the effects that marijuana has on driving. The Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research at the University of California, San Diego, is also researching driving under the influence of marijuana. Through controlled tests involving drivers with different levels of THC, researchers hope to understand:

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The Penalty for Cycling Under the InfluenceThere are several modes of transportation others than cars and trucks that are illegal to operate while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. You could be charged for being under the influence while operating a boat, riding a motorcycle, or even riding a horse. Then there is the criminal offense of cycling under the influence. Unlike many other states, California has a separate law that addresses CUI offenses. The consequences are not as severe as being convicted for driving under the influence, but it is still not a conviction that you want on your criminal record.

Charge and Penalties

The rules of a bicycle traffic stop are similar to stops involving motor vehicles:

  • Police are allowed to stop anyone who they reasonably suspect may be under the influence;
  • The officer will look for signs that the cyclist is intoxicated, such as bloodshot eyes, slurred speech, and lack of balance;
  • The officer will ask questions to better understand the cyclist’s condition;
  • The officer may arrest the cyclist if they have probable cause to believe the cyclist is legally intoxicated; and
  • The blood alcohol concentration limit for a cyclist is 0.08.

Cycling under the influence is a misdemeanor offense, punishable by a $250 fine. There would be no jail time, but the conviction would remain on your criminal record. People younger than 21 who are convicted of CUI may lose their driving privileges for a year or be prohibited from applying for a driver’s license for a year.

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California Considering Lowering BAC Limit to 0.05California lawmakers are trying to follow Utah’s lead by becoming the second state in the U.S. to lower its blood alcohol concentration limit from 0.08 to 0.05. Utah enacted the change to its driving under the influence of alcohol law at the end of 2018. California wasted little time in proposing a bill that would make the same change. Even if this bill fails to pass through the assembly, lawmakers may continue to propose this legislation until enough of their colleagues join them. Proponents of lowering the BAC limit claim that it will discourage drunk driving and reduce the number of DUI fatalities. However, opponents argue that the change would punish more drivers while doing little to save lives. There are three points that support this argument:

  1. Low Level of Impairment: Statistics on drunk driving fatalities consistently show that the average BAC for drivers is around 0.15, which is almost double the current legal limit. There is no statistical evidence that proves that drivers whose BAC is between 0.05 and 0.08 are a significant cause of driving fatalities. Instead, scientific studies have concluded that drivers show greater signs of impairment when they are using hands-free phones than when they have a BAC of 0.05. Hands-free phone conversations are not only legal but considered more responsible than other forms of distracted driving.
  2. Ease of Reaching Limit: Your gender, age, and weight can determine how much alcohol you must consume to reach the BAC limit. Women and people who weigh less tend to be more affected by alcohol, and older people need longer to metabolize the alcohol in their bodies. A woman who weighs 120 pounds could reach a 0.05 BAC after little more than a 12 oz. beer or a 5 oz. glass of wine. A 200-pound woman would be legally intoxicated after two such drinks. Even a 240-pound man could have a 0.05 BAC after three such drinks.
  3. Creating More Offenders Than Threats: The BAC limit is an estimate of what amount of blood alcohol will make someone legally impaired. There are drivers who show no signs of impairment when their BAC is at 0.08, let alone 0.05. However, police may stop drivers for reasons that are unrelated to their ability to drive. If the officer suspects alcohol consumption and performs a BAC test, the driver may be charged with DUI despite not being a danger to others on the road. Lowering the BAC limit will increase the frequency of these types of arrests.

Contact a San Francisco DUI Defense Lawyer

A DUI conviction has serious consequences, such as a driver’s license suspension, fines, and possible jail time. A Napa, California, DUI defense attorney at Burglin Law Offices, P.C., can protect you against DUI charges and penalties. To schedule a free consultation, call 415-729-7300.

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New Legislation Would Increase Felonies, Impoundment for Repeat DUIsThe California State Legislature has proposed a law that would institute harsher penalties for people who have been convicted for driving under the influence multiple times within a 10-year period. The law would create a mandatory felony conviction for certain repeat offenders, instead of giving the courts the option of a misdemeanor conviction. The law would also extend the length of time that a convicted offender’s vehicle could be impounded. If the law passes, these penalties would make DUI defense even more critical for those being charged.

Felony Charges

Under the current law, four or more DUI convictions within 10 years can be a misdemeanor or felony offense. The proposed law states that:

  • Five or more DUI convictions within 10 years would be a felony offense; and
  • For a person previously convicted for a felony DUI, a subsequent DUI conviction within 10 years must be a felony, instead of choosing between a misdemeanor and a felony.

The main difference between a misdemeanor and a felony conviction is the possible jail time. A court cannot sentence a person convicted for misdemeanor DUI for longer than a year in jail. A jail sentence for a felony DUI can be as long as three years. A felony conviction can also affect an offender’s ability to obtain employment, loans, housing, and professional licenses.

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Posted on in DUI

Ignition Interlock Becoming Mandatory in 2019California will enact a statewide ignition interlock device program for all driving under the influence convictions starting at the beginning of 2019. The state has been running a pilot IID program since 2010 in Alameda, Los Angeles, Sacramento, and Tulare counties. Courts in the rest of the state have issued IIDs as part of DUI sentencing on a case-by-case basis. The new law will make IIDs mandatory for most convictions. IIDs are costly and sometimes troublesome for users but may be preferable to having a restricted or suspended driver’s license.

What is an IID?

An ignition interlock device is an alcohol breath tester that is installed inside your vehicle. You are responsible for at least part of the cost of having the device installed and maintenance fees. With the device, you must provide an alcohol-free breath sample in order to start the vehicle and will be required to provide additional breath samples:

  • 10 to 15 minutes after you start driving; and
  • Every 45 minutes after that.

You will have about six minutes to provide a breath sample when you receive an alert while driving. The device will not shut down your vehicle if you fail a breath test while driving, but it will notify the court of the failed test. Failing a test, attempting to tamper with the device, or having someone take the test for you can result in the suspension of your driving privileges.

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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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