A Southern California college student accused of driving while under the influence of marijuana recently beat the charges, convincing members of the jury that a blood THC level of eight nanograms per milliliter (8 ng/ml) didn’t mean she was too impaired to drive safely.
The case throws into doubt the applicability of per se standards for cannabis impairment while driving, including Washington state’s limit of 5 ng/ml which passed as a part of legalization there under Initiative 502.
Nine of 12 members of the hung jury voted for acquittal of the USC student, who faced charges for driving while under the influence of marijuana (People v. Gibson, Case #12nm00610). Drugged driving has been an increasingly prominent topic as legislators take steps to clarify laws pertaining to driving while under the influence of drugs while defense attorneys argue the state’s ability to accurately prove a driver’s intoxication.
The defendant, a senior at USC majoring in Psychology, was accused of driving while under the influence of marijuana in violation of California law, VC 23152 (a) on December 16, 2011. According to court documents, she had approximately 8 ng/ml of active THC in her blood at the time of her arrest.
The prosecution argued that she failed her field sobriety tests and was impaired at the time of driving while her criminal defense attorneys argued that the marijuana in her system did not impair her ability to make safe driving maneuvers. Her defense attorney, Randy Collins of the law firm MacGregor & Collins, submitted evidence that demonstrated his client could operate a motor vehicle with the same caution characteristic of a sober person, according to court documents.
Attorney Collins challenged the subjective nature of the field sobriety tests, which he alleges are based primarily on a police officer’s observations. Additionally, attorney Collins presented evidence that 8 ng/ml of THC in the blood stream does not establish impairment.
“There is a common belief that the use of marijuana impairs a person’s ability to drive, but our research has found that the use of marijuana effects different people in very different ways,” Collins said. “Since there is no THC breathalyzer or other on-site detection device to determine whether the person in question has recently consumed marijuana, or is currently under the influence of marijuana, a tremendous amount of faith is placed on an officer’s ability to objectively evaluate results from field sobriety tests.
“We were able to convince the majority of the jury that our client’s ability to drive was not impaired, and then had a respected physician come to his own conclusion that he personally did not believe that our client’s ability to drive was effected by her marijuana use,” Collins said. “Although the case ended in a hung jury, the prosecutor has recommended that the case is not tried again.”
By Steve Elliott