Although the threat of getting busted for stoned driving is a matter of great concern for the cannabis community, a new report indicates that many Colorado juries have had no choice but to acquit defendants charged with DUI because prosecutors are having a difficult time proving impairment.
A jury recently handed down a “not guilty” verdict in a case involving a Lakewood man who was charged with driving under the influence of marijuana after a blood test revealed that he was operating a motor vehicle a few points over the legal limit. After deliberating the evidence for only thirty minutes, the jury determined that even though 27-year-old Ralph Banks may have technically violated Colorado law, there was not enough proof to find that he was guilty of stoned driving.
“It’s not like alcohol,” attorney Rob Corry, who represented the defendant in the case, told CBS Denver. “Marijuana is different. The standards are not one-size-fits-all.”
Here’s how the case got started.
Last year, a police officer spotted Banks driving around with a missing headlight and used this common highway indiscretion as an excuse to pull him over. During the traffic stop, the officer claimed he had reason to suspect that Banks was under the influence of marijuana, asking him to consent to a roadside sobriety test.
Of course, at this point, Banks had no choice but to walk the little white line for the officer. As with many states, in Colorado, a person can be automatically charged with a DUI, resulting in the loss of their driver’s license for at least a year, if he or she fails to comply with a cop’s request for a sobriety shakedown.
Although Banks voluntarily agreed to the test, the officer determined that he was driving impaired and carted him off to jail for DUI.
Once in custody, Banks was asked to submit to a blood test, which sadly, is the most effective method currently in the law enforcement arsenal for gauging impairment. The test results revealed that Banks’ registered 7.9 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood, slightly over the legal limit of 5 nanograms per milliliter. By all accounts, Banks was destined to have his record stained with a DUI, having officially given the state just enough rope to hang him.
Fortunately, Banks, who understood he was being railroaded by the state for a crime he didn’t commit, hired an attorney and fought the DUI charge in court. His attorney argued that his client was a “responsible consumer” and was “not impaired, even to the slightest degree.” The jury concurred.
Interestingly, and perhaps one of the most important elements to take away from this case, is that it appears that taking your DUI charge to trial is the best possible course of action when battling a bogus charge for driving under the influence of marijuana. Jefferson County District Attorney Peter Weir told CBS, “These are difficult cases to prosecute” because “our current law is not strong enough to effectively hold people accountable.”
A spokesperson for the District Attorney’s office confirmed that most marijuana DUI cases result in acquittal.
Banks’ attorney believes the case is a huge victory for everyone who takes part in the Colorado cannabis market, as it gives them more power to fight these types of charges.
“Now with this case, it’s perfectly legal to get behind the wheel after consuming marijuana as long as you’re not impaired,” said Corry. “And that’s the key. You can do it if you’re not impaired. If you’re impaired, do not get behind the wheel of a vehicle.”
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