Police in Middletown, NJ, charged a motorist after he allegedly struck a teenage boy on Halloween night, per the news. The charges against the motorist include assault with a motor vehicle while under the influence, possession of less than 50 grams of marijuana, possession of drug paraphernalia, driving while under the influence of intoxicating liquor/drugs, possession of a controlled dangerous substance in a motor vehicle, reckless driving, careless driving, failure to yield to a pedestrian, and failure to use headlamps. Unsurprisingly, however, the police have not disclosed whether the DUI is for driving under the influence of marijuana, alcohol, or another intoxicating substance.
Additionally, the nj dot com report offers few details about the incident. For example, it is unknown what the boy was doing when the accident occurred. Likewise, police claim the extent of the injuries are “serious,” but the news did not investigate this. Consequently, it is impossible to know why authorities described the injuries as serious. Furthermore, the news item revealed the identity of the motorist, and the charges against him. But the report includes no information about the basis for all the charges.
Driving Under the Influence of Marijuana
New Jersey’s DUI statute prohibits operation of a motor vehicle while under the influence of intoxicating liquor, narcotic, hallucinogenic or habit-producing drug.1 Nevertheless, the State must prove the elements of the DWI statute against a defendant beyond a reasonable doubt. But the unique challenges involved in defending a charge of intoxicated operation will almost certainly confuse a pro se defendant. Therefore, this post will cover one aspect of the law against driving under the influence of marijuana.
In one reported case on driving under the influence of marijuana3, authorities in Cape May County observed a motorist weave several times across the double lines. In addition, they saw the motorist travel in the lane of oncoming traffic. Therefore, the cops stopped the motorist.
During the stop, the officers detected the odor of alcohol and burnt marijuana emanating from the vehicle. Additionally, they observed his eyes were bloodshot and glassy, his eyelids drooped, and his face appeared pale and flushed. They also watched as he fumbled in the center console and glovebox for all his credentials. Moreover, he admitted to having consumed a couple beers, he seemed a little bit lost when he exited the vehicle, he spoke very slowly and very slurred, the odor of alcohol and marijuana emanated from his person, he had an emotionless stare on his face, and he failed to recite the alphabet as part of the field sobriety test. Furthermore, the police discovered a pipe with marijuana residue during a pat-down. Based on all this, the officers arrested him.
Back at the station, after waiving his Miranda2 rights, the driver submitted to a breath test. But he became increasingly agitated, and he started to use profane language and gestures. Even after the police physically restrained him, the motorist continued to create a general disturbance in the station. For example, he interrupted other troopers as well as the investigating officers. Additionally, he failed to provide the police with the phone number of a person who could retrieve him. And when the officers drove him to a residence, the motorist lectured them about how they are untrustworthy, how they abuse their power, and he banged on the window of the troop car upon arrival at the residence.
The State called one of the arresting officers and two forensic scientists to testify. The arresting officer testified that in his opinion the defendant was “intoxicated, not himself,” among other aspects of his testimony. Additionally, one expert testified about the presence of THCC, or marijuana metabolite, in the defendant’s urine. Furthermore, the second expert testified that the residue in the glass pipe was marijuana. The Municipal Court relied on the testimony of the officer to find the fact of intoxication. Likewise, the judge relied on the testimony of the forensic scientists to find the cause of the intoxication. Therefore, the judge found the defendant guilty of driving under the influence of marijuana.
Although the Law Division upheld the Municipal Court, the Appellate Division reversed.4 The panel found that the State failed to prove the quantity of marijuana in the driver’s system. Additionally, the State failed to link defendant’s driving or post-arrest conduct with marijuana intoxication. Furthermore, the panel reasoned that marijuana intoxication is not a matter of common knowledge. Thus, an inference of intoxication could not be drawn solely from a lay witness’s testimony about the defendant’s behavior. Consequently, the Appellate Division reversed the Law Division.
New Jersey Supreme Court Review
Relying on case law, the New Jersey Supreme Court reasoned the State can prove alcohol intoxication with lay witness testimony. This is because a state of alcohol intoxication can be established without any special skill, knowledge, or experience. In this particular case, however, the State did not prove the symptoms of marijuana intoxication have become common knowledge sufficient for the Court to allow lay opinion testimony about them.
Thus, the Court held expert testimony is the preferred method for the State to prove marijuana intoxication. Contrary to the Appellate Division opinion, however, the DUI statute does not define how much of the foreign substance must be present to violate it. Likewise, the Supreme Court held the DWI statute does not require proof of which particular substance caused the intoxication. The legal issue is simply whether the defendant was under the influence of a narcotic, hallucinogen, or habit-producing drug while he operated a motor vehicle.
Marijuana is a hot news and policy topic in New Jersey nowadays. But I cannot suggest anyone in New Jersey indulge in this substance until it is legal. And even when it is legal, the law against driving under the influence will remain in full force. So if the police charge you, New Jersey DUI Lawyer Michael Smolensky, Esquire, knows how to protect his clients. A charge of driving under the influence of marijuana calls for an aggressive defense, and Mr. Smolensky can provide consultations for all such cases. Call Now—(856) 812-0321.
1 State v. Bealor 187 N.J. 574, 576 (2006)(quoting N.J.S.A. 39:4-50).
2 Miranda v. Arizona 384 U.S. 436, 86 S.Ct. 1602, 16 L.Ed.2d 694 (1966).
3 Bealor, note 1.
4 State v. Bealor, 377 N.J. Super. 321 (App. Div. 2005).