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Marijuana DUI Field Sobriety Tests

Knowledgeable Tacoma Attorneys Representing Drivers Facing Prosecution

Washington has legalized recreational marijuana, which means that there are many more drivers arrested and convicted for marijuana DUI now than there used to be. Police officers can find it difficult to determine whether to arrest a driver for marijuana DUI. Unlike with an alcohol-related DUI, there are very few tools that can be administered on the roadside that reliably and accurately detect marijuana impairment. Often, to make an arrest for marijuana DUI, officers need to rely on field sobriety tests. Marijuana DUI field sobriety tests are not always accurate, and the Tacoma marijuana DUI lawyers at Smith & White may be able to challenge these results and get them suppressed.

Marijuana DUI Field Sobriety Tests

There are tools being developed to test for marijuana use. However, the tools currently on the market often take days to process and cannot decipher the timing of a driver’s marijuana use. There may be THC in your bloodstream, even if you last smoked a few weeks ago. New tools are being developed, but until they are available, officers rely largely on observations and field sobriety tests to determine whether somebody is impaired by marijuana.

There are three field sobriety tests that have been standardized by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA): the walk and turn, the one leg stand, and the horizontal gaze nystagmus. However, the tests were originally designed for drunk driving purposes instead of marijuana DUI purposes. Impairment due to alcohol consumption is different from impairment due to marijuana use.

Additionally, an arresting officer trained as a Drug Recognition Expert may try to get a driver to submit to an evaluation. If all of the steps of this evaluation are completed, the officer’s testimony may be admitted as expert testimony. The officer is supposed to log all of the evaluations that are part of the Drug Recognition Expert evaluation. The log should indicate how well the Drug Recognition Expert is able to accurately identify the type of drug used as validated or invalidated by blood analysis.

Field sobriety tests may be conducted along with the Drug Recognition Evaluation. Field sobriety tests may be admissible as evidence in court, but a defense attorney often can challenge them in various ways, such as attacking how they were administered or arguing that the test results were obtained as a result of a constitutional rights violation.

Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test

When administering the horizontal gaze nystagmus test, an officer moves an object or their own finger from side to side before the driver’s face. They do this to try to determine whether there is an involuntary jerking of the eye, which is associated with significant intoxication. Your eye may jerk back and forth if it is strained at more than a 45-degree angle when you are under the influence. For alcohol (but not marijuana), this type of field sobriety test is considered 77% reliable.

Walk and Turn Test

The walk and turn test divides your attention between tasks that require physical attention and tasks that require mental attention. The officer will give you instructions and determine whether you walk an incorrect number of steps, stop being able to stay on the line, start before being instructed to do so, or lose your balance. The NHTSA has estimated that the test is effective 68% of the time for alcohol.

One Leg Stand Test

During a one leg stand, a police officer will tell you to lift your foot, stay still, count, and look down. The officer may believe that you are under the influence if you hop, put your foot down, or sway. The NHTSA has estimated that the test is reliable 65% of the time for alcohol. Of the three primary field sobriety tests, therefore, this test is considered the least reliable.

Consult an Experienced Tacoma Attorney

We can evaluate the circumstances of your case to determine whether any irregularities may provide grounds to bring a motion to suppress evidence. If you believe that there was a problem with your marijuana DUI field sobriety tests, this may be a basis for your defense. Based in Tacoma, the attorneys at Smith & White represent drivers across Pierce, King, Kitsap, and Thurston Counties. Call us at (253) 203-1645 or contact us through our online form.

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