Nationwide, drugged drivers cause more fatal crashes than drunk drivers. As a result, law enforcement officers in McLeod County are extremely aggressive in this area. Part of this crackdown includes a new kind of expert witness, as outlined below. And, as technology continues to advance, police officers might have even more anti-drugged driving tools by the end of 2020.
Legally, the Gopher State has one of the broadest drugged driving laws in the country. Under Minnesota law, it is illegal to drive “under the influence of. . .an intoxicating substance (when the person knows, or has reason to know, that the substance has the capacity to cause impairment).” It’s also illegal for drivers to have even trace amounts of most Schedule I (street drugs like heroin and cocaine) or Schedule II drugs (prescription pills like Adderall and Vicodin) in their systems.
Pragmatically, these cases are difficult to prove in court. Generally, prosecutors must rely on circumstantial evidence to establish guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. So, if a Hutchinson, MN criminal lawyer aggressively attacks the evidence, it might be possible to get the charges thrown out of court.
Field Sobriety Tests
The bulk of circumstantial evidence in a DWI case usually comes from the subjective FSTs. Sometimes, officers ask suspects to perform unapproved tests, like balancing with their eyes closed or reciting part of the ABCs. These tests have no scientific basis. The three approved FSTs, however, have at least some scientific basis. They are:
Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus: During the DWI eye test, officers look for involuntary pupil movements as suspects track moving objects with their eyes. Nystagmus, or lazy eye, is a fairly common condition. So, many people cannot pass this test whether they are drunk or sober.
One-Leg Stand: Somewhat similarly, it’s almost impossible for people with any mobility impairment whatsoever to balance on one leg for more than a few seconds. Officers deduct points for the slightest swaying, as well as for technicalities like holding up the wrong leg.
Walk and Turn: The heel-to-toe walk test might be the signature DWI field test. This test is almost impossible to successfully complete unless the defendant is wearing athletic shoes. It’s also very difficult to walk an imaginary line heel to toe, as opposed to an actual line.
This evidence is often unavailable. Defendants have a Fifth Amendment right to refuse the FSTs. And, the refusal cannot be used against them in court.
Hutchinson, MN Criminal Lawyers and Drug Recognition Experts
The sudden uptick in drugged driving cases has created a cottage industry in many police departments. When they stop motorists for suspicion of drugged driving, officers often summon DREs to the scene. There, they observe the FSTs and look for other physical evidence of drug use. Subsequently, they offer their “expert” opinions in court.
There are basically two ways a Hutchinson, MN criminal lawyer can undermine DRE testimony. First, these individuals often have suspect qualifications. They usually learned everything they know about drugged driving at police-sponsored seminars. Furthermore, DREs earn their wings by identifying drugged drivers, not by discerning drugged drivers from sober drivers.
Additionally, and on a related note, a DRE’s job is to confirm drugged driving, not to confirm or deny drugged driving. So, summoning a DRE to the scene is like initiating a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Marijuana Breathalyzers are not on the street yet, but that could change by the end of 2020. Several firms, including a California company, have developed prototypes. These gadgets measure THC particles in the breath, just like alcohol Breathalyzers count ethanol particles.
In this area, the law has not caught up with science. Most researchers agree that .08 is a reasonable BAC limit for non-commercial drivers. But there is no such consensus with regard to THC. Minnesota law states that five nanograms per milliliter of THC seriously impairs drivers. But that figure is completely arbitrary. So, before marijuana Breathalyzers appear, Hutchinson, MN criminal lawyers will advocate for clients at the statehouse to change the law, before these cases reach the courthouse.