Pot-Smoking Driver Raises Issues

Sep 5, 2012

The recent acquit­tal of a Saskatchewan dri­ver on impaired dri­ving charges — even though she admit­ted using mar­i­juana before hit­ting the road and bun­gled a num­ber of coör­di­na­tion tests — is rais­ing ques­tions about the abil­ity of law enforce­ment to go after drugged dri­vers. Some advo­cates say that Canada’s drug-impaired dri­ving laws intro­duced in 2008 are defi­cient and that fed­eral law­mak­ers should move to adopt drug-intake thresh­olds sim­i­lar to the 0.08 blood-alcohol limit. The judge in the Saskatchewan driver’s case said police and pros­e­cu­tors failed to con­vince him that her use of mar­i­juana actu­ally affected her abil­ity to oper­ate a vehi­cle. Saska­toon police set up a road­side check­point on June 19, 2011. An offi­cer approached a vehi­cle and smelled an over­whelm­ing odour of mar­i­juana. The dri­ver admit­ted to the offi­cer that she had smoked mar­i­juana about 2−1÷2 hours ear­lier. The offi­cer, who was a trained drug recog­ni­tion eval­u­a­tor, had the dri­ver per­form a num­ber of coör­di­na­tion tests. Dur­ing the walk-and-turn test, the dri­ver missed a num­ber of heel-toe steps and failed to turn, as instructed. Dur­ing the finger-to-nose test, she was able to touch her nose only once dur­ing six attempts. The offi­cer also noticed eye­lid tremors and red­den­ing of the dri­vers’ eyes. Fol­low­ing these and other tests, the offi­cer con­cluded the dri­ver had mar­i­juana in her sys­tem, which was later con­firmed by a urine analy­sis. But in a court rul­ing Aug. 21, provin­cial court Judge Daryl Labach said the evi­dence pre­sented in court only showed that the accused had used mar­i­juana prior to being stopped and that some of it was still in her sys­tem when she was eval­u­ated by police. “What (the officer’s) evi­dence does not con­vince me of is that at the time she was dri­ving, her abil­ity to oper­ate a motor vehi­cle was impaired by mar­i­juana,” he said. The judge said he was left with many ques­tions: What signs of impair­ment would one expect to see in some­one who has been using mar­i­juana? How long after using mar­i­juana would you expect to see these signs and how long would they last? Was the accused’s per­for­mance in some of the tests just as con­sis­tent with some­one who has poor bal­ance or poor coör­di­na­tion as it was with some­one who had used mar­i­juana? The lack of answers, and the lack of evi­dence of erratic dri­ving, raised rea­son­able doubt the dri­ver was dri­ving impaired, the judge said. There have been sim­i­lar acquit­tals in other juris­dic­tions. Labach referred to a 2010 case out of Ontario. A man had hit a mail­box with his car and went off the road. Police observed that the dri­ver had droopy eyes, slow and thick speech, and was unco-ordinated. A police drug-recognition expert con­cluded that the dri­ver was likely impaired by a cen­tral ner­vous sys­tem depres­sant, which was later con­firmed by a urine analy­sis. But Ontario Jus­tice Stephen J. Fuerth acquit­ted the dri­ver, say­ing evi­dence of the driver’s impair­ment was “far from com­pelling,” and that the Crown had failed to show beyond a rea­son­able doubt that the drug had caused the dri­ver to be impaired at the time he was dri­ving. “The hur­dle for the Crown in these cases is to relate back the find­ings of the eval­u­a­tion, and the sub­se­quent chem­i­cal analy­sis, to the time of the dri­ving,” the judge said in his deci­sion. Rep­re­sen­ta­tives of Moth­ers Against Drunk Dri­ving (MADD) said Fri­day that data on drug-impaired dri­ving con­vic­tions in Canada have been dif­fi­cult to obtain. But they said there is now grow­ing recog­ni­tion that fed­eral law­mak­ers need to remove some of the sub­jec­tiv­ity con­tained in Canada’s drug-impaired dri­ving laws by sim­ply adopt­ing “per se” lim­its for cer­tain com­mon illicit drugs, as there is for alco­hol. “This is the way to go,” said Robert Solomon, a law pro­fes­sor at West­ern Uni­ver­sity and MADD’s national direc­tor of legal pol­icy. “We need clear, bright line indi­ca­tors … that are capa­ble of enforce­ment.” One chal­lenge, how­ever, is get­ting experts to agree how much of a cer­tain drug needs to be found in someone’s sys­tem to con­sti­tute impair­ment. Solomon said that “there’s no rea­son for Canada to rein­vent the wheel” as many juris­dic­tions in the United States, West­ern Europe and Aus­tralia have already adopted such stan­dards. Asked for com­ment Fri­day, a spokesman for Jus­tice Min­is­ter Rob Nichol­son said: “Our gov­ern­ment takes impaired dri­ving very seri­ously. This is why we increased the penal­ties for impaired dri­ving while giv­ing police new tools to bet­ter inves­ti­gate drug-impaired dri­ving.” Source: Cal­gary Her­ald (CN AB) Copy­right: 2012 Can­west Pub­lish­ing Inc. Con­tact: http://​www2​.canada​.com/​c​a​l​g​a​r​y​h​e​r​a​l​d​/​l​e​t​t​e​r​s​.​h​tml Web­site: http://​www​.cal​gary​her​ald​.com/ Author: Dou­glas Quan

a2ad94aaf0a car.jpeg 150x90 Pot Smoking Driver Raises Issues

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Pot-Smoking Dri­ver Raises Issues

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