Proving Impairment in Marijuana DWI Cases

Marijuana lying on a table next to car keys - proving impairment marijuana dwi concept

Operating a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol isn’t the only way to get a DWI in North Carolina. These charges can also apply if you were driving while impaired by a drug, such as marijuana. Although there is currently no breath test available to measure the amount of marijuana in a driver’s system, impairment can still be proven in other ways. Not only can your driving conduct and physical symptoms be used as evidence of impairment in a marijuana DWI case — but blood testing can show the level of THC in your system.

How Can the Police Prove Impairment in a Marijuana DWI Case?

Driving while intoxicated is a serious offense in North Carolina — and law enforcement may use both their observations and various tests to establish impairment in a marijuana DWI case. If a police officer pulls you over because they suspect you are under the influence of marijuana, they will look for physical signs of impairment. They may form the opinion that you are under the influence of marijuana based on your driving behaviors, your physical symptoms, or your own admission regarding marijuana use.

Specifically, indications that an individual may be impaired by marijuana can include the following:

  • Reckless driving
  • The smell of marijuana
  • Slurred speech
  • Eye dilation
  • Slow reaction time
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Fast breathing

The police officer may request that you perform a field sobriety test on the side of the road for them to evaluate your cognitive and physical abilities. The physical coordination tests can include the walk and turn test and the standing on one leg test to assess your balance and attention. Police may also check for signs of impairment through your eye movements. If law enforcement suspects that you have marijuana in your system, they may also ask that you submit to a chemical drug test to measure the levels of THC in your bloodstream.

While field sobriety tests are not mandatory, if you are arrested, chemical testing is required under North Carolina’s implied consent law. If you do not consent, the police may be able to obtain a search warrant to get your blood tested in order to determine the level of THC. Additionally, a chemical test refusal can result in your license being revoked administratively by the Department of Motor Vehicles, regardless of the outcome of your criminal case.

What are the Penalties for a Marijuana DWI?

If you have been convicted of a marijuana DWI in North Carolina, the ramifications are just as severe as they would be for an alcohol DWI. If the prosecution can prove impairment in your marijuana DWI case, the potential penalties you might face can include monetary fines, jail time, and license suspension. For a first offense, you would most likely face misdemeanor charges — the severity of your punishment would depend upon whether any aggravating factors were present, such as causing a collision or endangering a child.

A first conviction for a misdemeanor marijuana DWI can typically result in a sentence of 30 days in jail and a fine of up to $4,000. However, if you have prior DWI convictions, you can spend up to two years or more in jail. In extreme cases, you could face felony charges and lose your driving privileges for the rest of your life. In addition to the criminal consequences, there can also be collateral effects on your personal and professional life. For instance, if you have a criminal record as a result of a marijuana DWI conviction, you may have difficulty finding employment or housing.

How Can a Criminal Defense Attorney Fight the Marijuana DWI Charges Against Me?

Proving a marijuana DWI can be challenging for the prosecution. Unlike alcohol, THC can remain in your system for days, and the concentration level can depend upon how often you consume the drug. Accordingly, the state is required to prove “appreciable impairment” in a marijuana DWI case. This means that the arresting officer must be able to establish that both your physical and mental faculties were noticeably impaired at the time you were pulled over.

The prosecution has a high burden to meet — and they must be able to prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. If you’ve been charged with a marijuana DWI, there are a number of defense strategies a skillful attorney may use to fight the charges against you. Importantly, a criminal defense attorney might be able to show that you were not actually impaired while driving, the field sobriety tests were not administered properly, or the blood test results were incorrectly interpreted. If the test results are rendered inadmissible, the prosecution’s case would be much more difficult to prove.

Similarly, if the police did not have a valid reason for the traffic stop, failed to read you your Miranda rights, or violated your Constitutional rights in another way, the evidence obtained as a result may be inadmissible in court. A knowledgeable criminal defense attorney will know how to evaluate your case, identify weaknesses in the prosecution’s evidence against you, and develop a strong defense strategy to achieve the best possible outcome.

Contact an Experienced North Carolina Marijuana DWI Attorney

A conviction of a marijuana DWI can be life changing. It’s essential to have a criminal defense attorney by your side who can protect your rights and fight for positive results in your case. The Johnston County criminal defense attorneys at Reece & Reece, Attorneys at Law are committed to providing capable representation for a wide range of criminal offenses in North Carolina, including drug and alcohol DWIs. Call (919) 300-1249 to schedule a consultation and learn how we can help.

Categories: DUI/DWI