You are sure your life is ruined. And, you just don’t understand the charges against you. How could you possibly be accused of driving while under the influence of drugs? It’s been more than a week since you last smoked weed.
You would never consider drinking and driving. When you take prescription medications, you follow the label instructions. Admittedly, you smoke marijuana every now and then. But, you never get high and drive. What seemed like a minor fender bender has resulted in what looks like big trouble.
DUI/DWI and Drugs
At the onset, let’s start with some clarification. DUI stands for driving while under the influence; DWI is the acronym for driving while intoxicated. In New Jersey, the two terms are used interchangeably. The law regarding impaired driving starts at NJSA 39:4-50.
According to the statute, a person may be deemed intoxicated if their blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level exceeds .08%. Of course, this is only applicable if the individual has imbibed some type of alcoholic beverage. Notwithstanding, a person can be charged with DWI if they are operating a motor vehicle and under the influence of a “narcotic, hallucinogenic or habit-producing drug.”
At any rate, you can most likely guess how BAC levels are determined. They can be registered on a breathalyzer or as part of blood and urine samples. But, what’s the story with proving drug impairment?
For starters, what initiated probable cause for your motor vehicle stop? In our exemplary case, it was a minor car accident that brought the police to come to the scene. Were you driving erratically? Maybe you were pulled over at a sobriety check. There is a host of reasons that could constitute probable cause regarding DUI suspicions.
If the officer feels confident that there is probable cause for a DWI arrest, you can anticipate the next step. You will then be expected to undergo a drug test at a medical facility. And, that marijuana joint you puffed last week? It’s almost certainly going to show up as a positive finding of drugs in your system.
If this is your story, you are not alone. Marijuana stays in your blood for a long time. Yes, well beyond the minutes or hours you might have been intoxicated. You know you weren’t impaired while you were behind the wheel. Now, you just need to prove it to the court. The question is how!
Drugs and Detection
Let’s be clear. For purposes of this discussion, your arrest is solely related to driving under the influence. You have no drugs in your car. Not even legally prescribed medications. The officer showed probable cause for your arrest, and the drug test proved there might be reason for concern. Again, could be.
The problem is that drugs metabolize at different time rates. According to one resource, cannabis can show up in urine up to 90 days after you’ve last ingested it. Here are some other drugs and the length of time they stay in your system
- Amphetamines, such as Adderall or Ritalin – Urine: 3 days; Blood: 12 hours
- Barbiturates, such as Seconal – Urine: 90 days; Blood: 2 days
- Benzodiazepines, such as Xanax or Valium – Urine: 6 weeks; Blood: 3 days
- Cocaine – Urine: 4 days; Blood: 2 days
- Heroin – Urine: 4 days; Blood: 12 hours
Conceivably, your urine or blood work comes back showing drugs without you actually being intoxicated. At this point, you may be introduced to a drug recognition expert, also known as a DRE.
DREs and DUIs
Drug recognition experts are police officers who have been provided with special procedures to evaluate suspects arrested for driving while under the influence of drugs. DREs are limited in number and therefore not called to every scene. In cases where they are used, these officers are required to follow a twelve-step protocol to determine if someone was impaired while driving.