Driving on Fumes, aka The Perils of Pot
What You Need to Know When Stopped by the Police
As the criminal laws evolve and to some extent become liberalized with society`s changing attitudes to the consumption of marijuana, one thing is becoming clear: Driving under the influence ( DUI ) of a drug, including what is commonly referred to as weed, is coming under closer and closer scrutiny. Governments and law enforcement agencies are racing to try to develop methods of detection and enforcement in an area of the law that has previously not been given much attention.
At the outset, it must be mentioned that a conviction under s. 253 of the Criminal Code of Canada for an offense of impaired driving by reason of the consumption of a drug ( or alcohol and a drug ) will bring the same nasty consequences as a conviction for impaired driving by reason of the consumption of alcohol alone, namely a minimum fine of $1000, a prohibition from driving anywhere in Canada and perhaps, worst of all, the imposition of a Criminal Record.
From a quick review of current print and online media articles, it`s obvious that the number of drivers operating a motor vehicle under the influence of a drug ( most often marijuana or some type of depressant medication ) is increasing at such a rate, that the numbers now suggest they almost match those of drivers affected by alcohol alone. There`s no question that these drivers can also pose similar dangers to other motorists and pedestrians using our public roads.
Possession Of A Banned Substance
It`s important to know that the issue of possession of a substance banned by the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and the impairment of one`s ability to drive under the influence of such substance are two different things, although the finding of pot on the driver or in his motor vehicle can provide evidence upon which a police officer can base further investigation in determining whether an offence under this section of the Criminal Code has been committed.
In this connection, if you are a motorist who is apprehended in a similar situation, volunteering information on the location of physical substances or acknowledging your potential consumption of a drug is obviously not in your best legal interest. Police searches without a warrant are often open to challenge where consent to the search has not been provided.
Related Article: Impaired Driving
Having a valid license to possess marijuana is no defense to a charge of impaired driving.
The reason to understand the distinction referred to at the beginning of the last paragraph is quite simple: merely having, for example, a valid license to possess marijuana for medical purposes, is absolutely no defense to a charge of impaired driving by reason of drug consumption. Unfortunately, this piece of information is not understood by many people and can lead to serious and unfortunate encounters with the criminal justice system. This critical distinction also applies to prescriptions issued by qualified medical practitioners for a whole raft of other otherwise legal drugs and substances.
In the last few years, the Criminal Code of Canada has been amended to provide several tools for police officers who suspect individuals of driving under the influence of a drug in the proceeding three hours in order to further their investigation in a three step process. The gathering and collecting of such evidence has often been referred to as Drug Recognition Protocol ( DRP ) and Drug Recognition Evidence ( DRE ).
Drug Recognition Protocol (DRP) / Drug Recognition Evidence (DRE)
This three step process in Canada, generally speaking, involves the establishing of the officer`s suspicion that an individual was driving under the influence of a drug and this can lead to a police demand that the individual submit to an evaluation by an evaluating officer employing Standard Field Sobriety Tests as established by regulation and usually involving physical coordination and perception abilities. The results of these tests can ultimately result in a suspect being compelled to give samples of bodily fluid to determine whether or not one or more drugs are present in his or hers system. Failure to comply at any stage of this process can result in an accused person being charged with an offense that carries the same consequences as impaired driving itself.
It is important for anyone caught up in this type of investigation or facing a criminal charge in this context, to understand that this is new and evolving law and is often open to serious challenge by criminal defense counsel. Needless to say, the grounds as determined by the officer at each stage of the process can be attacked at trial, potentially resulting in certain pieces of evidence necessary to convict being declared inadmissible, that is to say, not being able to be used against the person charged with the offense.
Further, regardless of the potential finding of drugs in the system of a suspected impaired driver, the courts have required the Prosecution to call expert evidence as to whether the presence of such substance or substances in the body would actually impair the ability of an individual to operate a motor vehicle and the standard of proof is beyond a reasonable doubt.
The expertise and findings of such witnesses are always open to intensive and effective cross-examination by an experienced, knowledgeable and competent criminal defense lawyer.
At The Criminal Law Team, we offer you our very best energy and collective ability to ensure that you get the serious representation your case deserves when charged with driving under the influence (DUI). Click here for a free consultation.