Judges and Drugged Driving
As you sit on the bench in a criminal court you see impaired drivers every day. You try to make a reasoned judgment in split seconds about the public safety risk presented by these drivers. You detain, set bail, or agree to leave them on their own recognizance based on your training and the information presented. But what do you know about the fastest growing group of impaired drivers? Drugged driving is rapidly becoming more prevalent than alcohol-impaired driving.
Drugged Driving is Prevalent
The latest data indicate that one in eight of the persons coming before you for Driving While Impaired (DWI) charges may have had drugs other than alcohol in their system when they were driving. Tests of drivers who were involved in a fatal crash show that both cannabis and narcotics use are up. Overall drug use of those in fatal crashes increased from 16.6% in 1999 to 28.3% in 2010. Cannabis went from 4.2% to 12.2%; narcotics from 1.8% to 5.5%. If the defendant is under 25, you should be additionally concerned: almost half of fatally injured drivers who tested positive for THC were in that age group.
With legalization and availability of cannabis in many states, are you ready? Washington State Toxicologist Fiona Couper has reported that in the first six months of 2013, 27.2% of impaired drivers who were tested for drugs were positive for delta-9-THC, the impairing compound in cannabis. And a whopping, 41.4% were positive for carboxy-THC, a metabolite which indicates use.
How Drug Literate Are You?
What about all those other drugs out there? What impact do they have on your calendar? What do you look for? What special orders or terms and conditions of release or probation should you be considering? What questions should you ask? When do you ask for an assessment? What are other courts doing to address this issue? How “drug literate” are you?
There is nothing worse than sitting on the bench and getting blindsided by an issue you haven’t had time to research or think about. There are special issues in drugged driving cases that behoove you to be prepared as more and more of these cases will be tried.
JSI President Judge Peggy Hora (Ret.) developed a course for the National Judicial College on drugged driving that will be given in Reno on Sept. 27-29, 2016. There are a number of resources on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) site, or JSI can prepare a custom program for you.
Drugged driving is finally getting the attention it deserves and judges must be facile with the research and educate themselves on this issue.
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