DUI of Drugs - Impairment Not Required

DUI - Driving under the Influence. This means that you can only be arrested and charged with DUI if you are under the influence, or impaired, by some kind of substance, right? Wrong. Under the laws of Pennsylvania, there is a way for you to be arrested for DUI even if you are not impaired. How? By having a controlled substance in your bloodstream.

It may sound strange, but Pennsylvania is what we call a per se state. This means that if certain substances are found in your system after a blood test, you are assumed to be DUI of a controlled substance (or DUID for short), just by the presence of the substance alone; it doesn't matter if you're actively under the influence of the drug. Of course, signs of impairment, or lack thereof, can affect whether or not there is probable cause to arrest and demand a blood draw, but that's a question for a different blog post.

As I explained at length in a prior blog post, if a blood test shows that you have a Schedule I controlled substance in your system, you fall under the per se section of the DUI statute and are assumed to be DUI. If they get past a suppression hearing, the Commonwealth doesn't have to show that you were impaired in any way by the drug; they just have to show that the drug is in your system. The same is true if you have Schedule II or III controlled substances in your system, and don't have a valid prescription for those drugs. Again, you don't necessarily have to be impaired; the presence in your bloodstream alone is enough for DUI.

What drugs are Schedule I controlled substances? These are your drugs that have no legitimate healthcare purpose - cocaine, heroin, PCP, etc., and one of the most popular drugs in our country today, marijuana. Because marijuana is so popular, and because the majority of DUID cases I see are the result of marijuana usage, let's look use it as an example.

Marijuana is the third most popular recreational drug in America, behind alcohol and tobacco. 1 in 3 people will try marijuana at least once in their lifetime, and the drug has been used by approximately 100 million Americans. Government surveys show that 25 million Americans have smoked marijuana in the last year, and 14 million people are regular users.

The more often you smoke marijuana, the longer the drug found in marijuana, THC, stays in your system. This means that you can have THC show up on a blood test anywhere from a few days to a few months after you've actually smoked, depending on how often and how much you imbibe. However, the effects of marijuana only last a few hours.

What does this mean for you? It means that you can be arrested for DUID long after you use marijuana and long after the effects have worn off. In other words, you can be charged and convicted of DUID without being impaired. This is because the law is written in a way that allows for charges just based on the presence of THC in your bloodstream, which can occur for months after use. In fact, I've had people come to me who swore they hadn't smoked pot for weeks prior to getting pulled over, and the levels of THC in their blood supported that, but they still were charged with DUID.

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