California was one of the first states to legalize medical marijuana and has consistently had some of the country's most progressive recreational use laws—in 2016, the state voted to legalize recreational marijuana use for adults aged 21 and above. However, despite the state's progressive marijuana stance, there are still some ways that consuming the drug can lead to criminal charges and prosecution. If you have been arrested for a marijuana DUI charge in Santa Barbara, you should consult with a skilled criminal defense attorney.
Although California recently legalized recreational marijuana use, there are still legal restrictions for how and when you can use the drug. California Vehicle Code 23152 states that “it is unlawful for a person who is under the influence of any drug to operate a vehicle.” This means that if you are caught driving under the influence of marijuana in Santa Barbara, you may face criminal charges.
In Santa Barbara, the penalties for a marijuana DUI and an alcohol DUI conviction are virtually the same. The major difference between alcohol DUIs and marijuana DUIs is that unlike alcohol, there is no legal (“per se”) limit or concentration that a motorist can have in their system while driving. This makes receiving a DUI for alcohol use more straightforward than receiving a DUI for marijuana use.
If you are pulled over with alcohol in your system, an officer can perform a breath test and quickly determine if you are within the legal limit. However, if an officer pulls you over for a suspected marijuana DUI, there is no per se limit, and the chemical tests for THC are often unreliable and inaccurate. All of these factors provide marijuana DUI lawyers with ample opportunity to develop a strong defense in court.
It may be more challenging to prove a defendant was under the influence of marijuana at the time of a stop beyond a reasonable doubt; however, if convicted, you may be subject to penalties including jail time, license suspension, and substance abuse coursework. The penalties you may face for a marijuana DUI depend on several factors, including your driving record or incurred injuries. Below are some of the penalties associated with first, second, third, and felony DUI convictions.
- For a first offense, you may face 6 months in jail, a $1,000 fine, and a 6-month driver's license suspension.
- For a second offense, you may face up to 1 year in jail, a $1,000 fine, and a 2-year license suspension.
- For a third offense, you may face up to 1 year in jail, a $,1000 fine, and a 3-year license suspension.
- For a misdemeanor offense with injury, you may face up to 1 year in jail, a $5,000 fine, and 1- to 3- year license suspension.
- For a felony DUI offense, you may face up to 3 years in California State Prison, a $1,000 fine, and a 4-year license suspension.
- For a felony DUI offense with injury, you may face up to 16 years in California State Prison, a $5,000 fine, and a 5-year license suspension.
In addition to the fines, jail sentences, and driver's license suspension periods outlined above, convicted defendants may also receive additional penalties, including probation and mandatory substance abuse or driver safety classes.
Often, proving a marijuana DUI charge presents challenges for the prosecution. This is due to the lack of a legal limit of marijuana a driver can have in their system while driving and the inaccuracies of marijuana chemical tests. In marijuana DUI cases, the prosecutor does not need a chemical test to obtain a conviction. Likewise, a chemical test in and of itself is usually not sufficient evidence for a conviction. A prosecution's strategy in a marijuana DUI case may involve the following elements:
- The observed driving pattern immediately preceding contact with law enforcement
- Statements the defendant made to the police at the time of their arrest
- The defendant's performance during their field sobriety test
- The defendant's physical symptoms at the time of the arrest, such as dilated pupils, red eyes, and a rapid heart rate
- The presence of any paraphernalia or marijuana in the defendant's car
- The defendant's driving history
In many cases, a prosecution's strategy may rely on the arresting officer's testimony. However, sometimes, the testimony of a drug recognition expert (DRE) may also be used as a substantial piece of evidence by the prosecution.
There are a number of ways a marijuana DUI attorney may approach developing a defense for your case. To successfully convict you of a marijuana DUI, a prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you operated a motor vehicle while under the influence of marijuana and that the consumption of that drug impaired your driving. While this may seem straightforward, marijuana DUI charges are often slightly more subjective than DUI charges involving alcohol.
Blood and chemical tests may be used by the prosecution in your case. However, chemical tests for marijuana use have some major flaws, including:
- They can't reliably indicate when the cannabis was used
- They can't accurately indicate how much marijuana was consumed
- Test results may vary depending on the type of test used
Unlike alcohol, THC—the compound in marijuana that produces the “high” effect—is not metabolized at a steady rate. Instead, the concentration of THC in your blood may peak in as little as 20 minutes and then rapidly decline. This is one of the problems THC poses for blood tests.
In addition, the larger issue with THC blood tests is that THC is fat-soluble, which allows it to stay stored in your body's fatty tissues for a month or longer. In theory, this could cause someone pulled over for a marijuana DUI to test positive for marijuana even if they haven't ingested a THC product in months. Your defense attorney may use the unreliable nature of blood tests as a defense in your case.
Some of the other legal defenses a skilled criminal defense attorney might employ include:
- Errors in the blood test procedures under Title 17 or otherwise
- A “no driving defense”—when the police officer did not actually witness you driving a car
- The officer did not have probable cause or reasonable suspicion to pull you over
- You recently used marijuana, but were not high at the time of driving
- You used marijuana, but it did not impair your driving
These are just a few of the many defenses a marijuana DUI lawyer may use in court. When you consult with a criminal defense attorney, they will look at all the factors surrounding your case and develop the best defense strategy specific to your situation.
While a marijuana DUI may seem straightforward in nature, there is a lot of room for error that an attorney may use to build a strong defense. For example, police officer bias or a lack of reasonable suspicion could have been present in your arrest.
At the Aron Law Firm, we provide clients facing marijuana DUI charges with a comprehensive analysis of their case. Our team works tirelessly to get the best outcomes for our clients. By limiting our client roster and the associated caseload, we are able to give more time and attention to each and every one of our cases. To schedule an appointment with one of our experienced DUI defense lawyers, call today at (805) 618-1768 or fill out our online contact form.