Marijuana-DUI Case Tossed by Arizona Supreme Court in Metabolite Ruling

Categories: Weed

DUI-RV-metabolite.jpg
mesa0789 via Flickr (modification by Ray Stern)
Arizonans no longer risk getting a DUI for driving with an inactive metabolite of marijuana in their blood following a ruling by the state's high court.

The Arizona Supreme Court announced this morning that it was reaffirming the trial court's decision to dump the case of Hrach Shilgevorkyan, who was prosecuted for driving while impaired after a blood test revealed the presence of marijuana. New Times covered the case and overall issue in detail in our May 2013 article "Riding High."

See also:
-Riding High: Arizona's Zero-Tolerance Stance on Pot and Driving
-Marijuana By Itself Not a Significant Factor in Fatal and Injury Crashes in 2012

Here's what the state's High Court had to say about the case in its 4-1 decision:

"We are not persuaded and reject the State's argument that [the law] 'creates a flat ban on the presence of any drug or its metabolite in a person's body while driving or in actual physical control of a vehicle,' even when the only metabolite found is not impairing . . .

"Because the legislature intended to prevent impaired driving, we hold that the 'metabolite' reference in [the law] is limited to any of a proscribed substance's metabolites that are capable of causing impairment . . . Drivers cannot be convicted of the . . . offense based merely on the presence of a non-impairing metabolite that may reflect the prior usage of marijuana."

Click here to read the entire ruling.

The opinion follows a ruling last year by the Arizona Court of Appeals that upheld the zero-tolerance law. Studies show the inactive metabolite carboxy-THC can be detected in the blood of some drivers for a few weeks after their last toke.

The law's strict ban on metabolites meant that unimpaired drivers with any trace of cannabis in their systems -- including some of the state's 48,000 registered medical-marijuana users -- were technically breaking the state's DUI laws just by getting behind the wheel. The new ruling ends potential abuse of the law by zealous prosecutors.

Motorists caught driving under the influence of marijuana can still be prosecuted for a DUI if a blood test reveals the presence of active THC, the main psychoactive ingredient in the plant, or the metabolite hydroxy THC, a compound broken down by the body that's believed to retain an inebriating effect. The High Court emphasized in its ruling that any "active" metabolite for any drug, not just marijuana, could still be used by prosecutors as evidence of DUI.

Justice Ann Timmer disagreed with the majority, implying the court was writing law from the bench: "I share some of the Majority's concerns about imposing a zero-tolerance, per se ban on driving with the presence of non-impairing metabolites in the body. But because [DUI law] clearly and unambiguously reflects that the legislature intended this result, it is not appropriate to employ secondary canons of statutory construction to find a different meaning. Any constitutional challenges to this provision should be addressed on a case-by-case basis."

(Added after publication):
Frequent marijuana users can also test positive for active THC days or even weeks after their last use, meaning that it's still possible to get a "sober" DUI for marijuana even with this ruling. Laws in Colorado and Washington, which have legalized the use of marijuana for adults 21 and older, ban users from operating motor vehicles with five or more nanograms of active THC in their blood.

UPDATE 1pm -- Written statement on the ruling by Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery:

"The only way the Court could reach its holding was by creating ambiguity where it did not exist in order to engage in interpretive jujitsu and impede on a function specifically left to the legislature: changing a clearly worded statute to accommodate changes in circumstances if called for. A healthy respect for our tripartite system of state government sometimes means restraint by one branch of government where invited to act and resisting the temptation to do so. By acting as it has, our State Supreme Court contributes to citizen cynicism particularly when it involves the whys and wherefores of drafting and passing legislation. Why should citizens work through our republican form of government and petition their duly elected legislators for statutory change when they can take a shot at only having to persuade just three Justices? Instead, the Court should have directed relief to the appropriate branch of government: the legislature."


We'll make one comment (in the form of a question) about Montgomery's statement: If this ruling contributes to "citizen cynicism" of government, as Montgomery asserts, how much citizen cynicism was created by keeping a law on the books that allowed sober motorists to be convicted of a DUI?

Got a tip? Send it to: Ray Stern.

Follow Valley Fever on Twitter at @ValleyFeverPHX.
Follow Ray Stern on Twitter at @RayStern.


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33 comments
highdesert420
highdesert420

Bill Montgomery just cannot stand the fact that he can no longer lock innocent sober drivers in cages. 

Trommy
Trommy

Wow look at that last statement by Montgomery.  Talk about sounding like someone who does not have respect for the rule of law and the way our justice system works.  Would he prefer that the laws were written, imposed and prosecuted by one man - Himself?

sweetcookies3333
sweetcookies3333

crushing your evil prohibitionist crew Sherriff Bill, hahahaha


all the way from my couch in cali 

sweetcookies3333
sweetcookies3333

the greatest plant in the universe is almost free, LET FREEDOM RING! 13


Senator Kimberly Yee runs Arizona and marijuana is her #1 target, look out Arizonans


"any doctor against marijuana is a doctor of death" - cali secret 420

from 0 states to half the country, from low 20% approval to almost 70%, cali runs this planet by 2 decades, time to tie marijuana to the 2014, 2016 elections, out with the old, in with the new

20 years behind us southern states, sad and scary....nobody denies freedoms like the south, nobody…the top ten incarcerators on the planet are southern states...even if marijuana reforms did pass the republiCANTS in charge would deny you all your freedoms, centuries of practice...no matter though, we never planned on getting your backwards brethren from day one, half the country already but not one southern state, lol...not 1….the new generations are taking over in the south and they are nothing like their freedom denying parents, let’s ride…

Deaths by Alcohol and Tobacco: Millions
Deaths by Prescription Drugs: Quadrupled in last decade
Deaths by Guns: Millions
Deaths by the food we are fed: Millions
Deaths by Marijuana: 0, ever...they are killing my American family while denying freedom

love and freedom forever

AMERICA'S WAR ON DRUGS IS A WAR ON AMERICANS! 33

RetiredArmy
RetiredArmy

Funny how Bill Montgomery seems to have a hard time with the Arizona Constitution that allows for the will of the people too be enacted into law thru the ballot, bypassing an unresponsive legislature.

From his statement should I take it Bill doesn't think the will of the people, that is, Government by the People, should have any weight in the argument?


Why is Bill at war with Civility and the Common Decency that dictates it is immoral to knowingly imprison someone for a crime that  they can not be guilty of. In this case it's DUI, what's next?



Bret
Bret

So what does this mean for those who have already been convicted of this? Does anyone have any advice for what my options are to challenge this?

WhoKnows
WhoKnows topcommenter

How's this, Montypoodle.  Wed AM, you give a drug test to EVERY lawyer at MCAO as they walk through the door for work.


If any show they have an opiate in their system (prescription or not), you list their name and drop ALL cased they were involved with, as they are CLEARLY "Under the influence" and can't be trusted to even drive....


Or are you an idiot Monty?  You want people high on opiates working for you?

marcy
marcy

Monty and the Arizona legislature deserve to spend some time behind bars for their assault on Arizona residents.

josedinero12
josedinero12

Had a relative convicted of DUI - Marijuana back in 2013. Lost his license for a friggin YEAR! Had to have an IID installed for friggin WEED.....IT DOESN'T MEASURE WEED!


Will this ruling allow him to go back and challenge his conviction?


Anyone?

Flyer9753
Flyer9753 topcommenter

"Why should citizens work through our republican form of government and petition their duly elected legislators for statutory change when they can take a shot at only having to persuade just three Justices? Instead, the Court should have directed relief to the appropriate branch of government: the legislature."


Hey Monty, the people have been speaking but the legislators (like you) aren't listening.


How many times did the voters tell you what they want, only to have you pervert it through your 'interpretations'??


If you would actually do your job, instead of working solely for Cathi Herrod, Arpaio and the private prison industry then judges would not have to stop bad laws from the bench.

teknik
teknik

um, 


Hey New Times please post what Prop 203 says about cannabis metabolites in the blood.

Flyer9753
Flyer9753 topcommenter

Hey Montgomery


..I..

DonkeyHotay
DonkeyHotay topcommenter

Will this metabolite ruling extend to Cocaine, Heroin, MDMA and Peyote?


Egregious_Philbin
Egregious_Philbin

Montgomery, the man who loses more than the Diamondbacks.  I'll bet he is seething and snarling.  The dude needs a joint, anything to open that pinprick of a tight ass he has.



rickaz59
rickaz59

What metabolites does Montgomery have in his system, to attempt written English like those paragraphs?  

Vizzini
Vizzini

Rationality prevails.

valleynative
valleynative topcommenter

What the court ruling says is basically "Even though the law says 'metabolites', we know that you really meant 'active metabolites', because, after all, you're not complete assholes, right? ... right?"


And Montgomery seems to want to challenge that.


Cozz
Cozz topcommenter

Don't like it Montgomery ?....too bad, so sad....asshole.

WhoKnows
WhoKnows topcommenter

Have they been able to clean the walls in the CA's office after Montypoodle's head exploded?  We know he'd love to charge "those hippies" with DUI even though nothing in their blood causes impairment.  Did Cathi Herrod also have a cow about this, and name the cow "Cathi Jr"?

eric.nelson745
eric.nelson745 topcommenter

If Monty and Sheila Polk were dead, they'd be spinning in their graves.

1959cutter
1959cutter

o'le monty seems to take everything  personaly with regards to the law he doesn't agree with.

ray.stern
ray.stern moderator

D. Operating, navigating or being in actual physical control of any motor vehicle, aircraft or motorboat while under the influence of marijuana, except that a registered qualifying patient shall not be considered to be under the influence of marijuana solely because of the presence of metabolites or components of marijuana that appear in insufficient concentration to cause impairment.

Me-->>> if your point is that the AMMA and this new ruling still don't equate, duly noted.

WhoKnows
WhoKnows topcommenter

@valleynative  Montypoodle doesn't want to change.  He LIKES being a close minded idiot, and has no intention of changing!  :)

josedinero12
josedinero12

@DonkeyHotay @josedinero12 Understood, of course...I was looking for an immediate response specifically addressing the question I asked in my original post. But thanks.  

DonkeyHotay
DonkeyHotay topcommenter

@ray.stern  ... so why would a "medical" patient be legal while a recreational user would be illegal at the exact same levels?


DonkeyHotay
DonkeyHotay topcommenter

@josedinero12 ... so you thought it wise to ask anonymous non-lawyer strangers on the internet for help or advice with important legal issues?



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