Utah’s Law on Levels of Drug Metabolites that Result in a Charge of DUI

Interviewer: Do you encounter cases where someone may have smoked marijuana a week ago or they do have a prescription for Ambien, and especially if they have a prescription, how are they violating any laws? Is there a level of metabolite that finds you guilty of DUI or is it if you have any metabolite?

In Utah, Any Metabolite Level Will Result in a DUI Charge

Court: Under Utah law, it is any measurable amount of a substance in your blood is enough to convict you for a DUI metabolite. The way that it works is for example; you have a prescription for Ambien. You have a prescription to take Ambien, but that doesn’t give you the right under the law to operate a vehicle in a state that is unsafe.

So if the Ambien affects your ability to drive, then you’re going to be driving under the influence, whether or not it’s a legal substance. It’s kind of the same as alcohol. Alcohol is technically a legal substance as long as you don’t drink too much of it before you drive.

It Can Be More Difficult for Prosecutors to Prove You Are Impaired by a Drug Versus Alcohol

With prescription drugs, it can be more difficult for a prosecutor to convict you because when you have an alcohol-related DUI, they have that Breathalyzer test and there is what’s called a per se DUI. If you blow into a breathalyzer, and it records your blood alcohol-content as above .08%, that is known as a per se DUI, and it is illegal to have that much alcohol in your system. That is easier for the prosecutor to prove because they don’t have to show that you are too impaired to drive the vehicle. They just have to show that your blood alcohol was above that 0.08% level.

When it comes to metabolite, it’s the same thing. It’s illegal for you to have that metabolite in your system and be operating a vehicle. But, since they can’t do a Breathalyzer the same way they do with alcohol, sometimes it’s harder for the police to come up with the probable cause necessary to arrest you.

The Police Must Have Probable Cause to Make An Arrest

You have to really fail the field sobriety test, and they have to have a good amount of evidence regarding your driving pattern, for example, that you are weaving around. If they don’t have that evidence in place to get the probable cause that they need to arrest you, then often, the lack of probable cause can result in your charges being dismissed.

Interviewer: With drug-related DUIs, how do you defend these cases if there is probable cause? Does the level of metabolite facto into the case? How does someone say yes, they were impaired or no, they weren’t impaired depending on any level of metabolite or not?

Is It Difficult to Defend a Drug-Related DUI Case?

Court: It’s one of the things that difficult about being a DUI attorney. It’s really a question of subjectivity. It is subjective because the legal question is whether or not you’re too impaired to safely operate a motor vehicle, but then the legislature has also introduced this per se violation that I was talking about earlier. The per se violation is where it’s illegal to operate a vehicle when you have either a blood alcohol level of .08 or any metabolite of a drug in your system.

It’s easier for the prosecution to prove a DUI. They don’t have to go through the subjective proof of this person was weaving and then they failed the field sobriety test and then they couldn’t remember their name and they had trouble finding their license. All they have to do is manage to obtain that breath test or blood draw result into the case.

By Court Koehler

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