Drug Impairment and DWI

Drug impairment measurement and drug recognition experts are discussed by Clarke Dummit.

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Impairment Questions in DWI Drug Cases

We’ve spent time discussing DWI and being impaired. For many, that means drinking too much alcohol. But what about when impairment refers to drug use?

Drug impairment is very difficult to deal with because you can’t measure it. North Carolina doesn’t measure a set number of kilograms or grams or anything like it does for alcohol. If you get a .08, you’re impaired whether you look impaired or not. There’s no such standard for marijuana or Ritalin or any drug that potentially could impair you but you may or may not be impaired.

A blood test that shows some amount of cocaine in your system could have been in there for a week and you’re not impaired on it, it may come back with trace amounts. The state has a blood test for drugs, but what does it mean? It’s hard to find a doctor who will say, according to this number, this person is impaired. Neither the state or defense can find a doctor to attest either way.

Recently, North Carolina has set up a program called the Drug Recognition Expert. They send officers to a 20 or 40 hour class and teach them things like the horizontal gaze nystagmus, which is entirely subjective and the practice of medicine which should not be performed by an officer. Ophthalmologists will tell you there are numerous reasons for the results this test can produce.

What North Carolina is trying to do is prove drug cases with junk evidence. To get this past the court, they have re-written the law to qualify a law enforcement officer who has completed a few classes as experts. They’re not, but the legislature is trying to tell the courts to accept them as so. As a result, your DWI lawyer needs to be up to par on rules that define what an expert really is and whether or not they quality under drug recognition expert statutes.

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