Marijuana and Auto Accidents

Learn about defending against a DUI for marijuana.

By , J.D.

If you were in a car accident and the police charged you with driving under the influence of marijuana, you should learn more about the law…and probably get legal help from an attorney.

Driving Under the Influence of Marijuana (DUI)

Although most people think of a DUI as "drunk driving," all states permit law enforcement officers to charge you with driving under the influence of any drug, including marijuana. A DUI is serious charge that can lead to significant fines, loss of driving privileges, and even jail time. When a DUI is coupled with an accident, the consequences are even more serious because a DUI can cause you to be financially liable for damages to people or property involved in the accident.

Defenses to Evidence that You Were High

If you were charged with being under the influence of marijuana at the time of your accident, the law enforcement officer probably noted that you:

  • had marijuana in your possession
  • smelled like marijuana
  • tested positive for THC, or
  • appeared inebriated.

Any of these may be enough to charge you with DUI, however they have different correlations to the accident and you may be able to defend against them in different ways. For example:

Marijuana in your possession. If the officer found marijuana on your body or in your car, you may be able to show that there is no correlation between your possession and the accident. (You had it, but you weren't high.) Of course, this defense will be easier to use if the officer didn't indicate that you also appeared inebriated. And this defense also requires that you didn't test positive for THC in your blood or urine. With this defense, you will still be charged with possession, but you may be able to get out of the DUI -- this is much better than being charged with possession and DUI.

Another defense would be to show that the search that led to the discovery of the pot was illegal – that is that the officer did not have the right search your person or your car. Proving that the search was illegal should keep your possession of pot from being used against you.

Learn about Search and Seizure Law and Illegal Searches.

The smell of marijuana. If the officer indicated that either you or the air in or around your car smelled like marijuana, you can show that he can't prove it. Because the smell of marijuana can't be recorded, it is basically his word against yours. This defense will work best if the other evidence against you is weak – that is -- you didn't test positive for THC, they didn't find any marijuana, and the officer didn't accuse you of acting inebriated.

Drug tests for THC. If you tested positive for THC, the bad news of that you can't deny that you had some marijuana in your system and this evidence can be used against you to show that you were driving under the influence. However, there is some good news too. Unlike alcohol's .08 BAC, there is no set level of THC that indicates inebriation. That is, science has not yet figured out the precise levels at which marijuana is shown to affect your driving. This is good for you because it will be hard for the prosecutor to prove that the presence of THC in your blood or urine caused impairment. Your defense will be to argue that the marijuana had no effect on your driving. This will be much easier if you can show that you performed well on your field sobriety tests, see below. Of course, if you performed poorly on those tests, that does not bode well for arguing that the THC had no effect on your driving.

Failed field sobriety tests. At the time of the accident, if a law enforcement officer thought that you might be inebriated, he or she may have given you field sobriety tests, such as asking you to follow the light of a flashlight, standing on one foot, or walking a straight line. Any indication that you were high bolsters the prosecution's argument that you were driving under the influence. However, you can defend against these assertions by claiming that the officer did not administer the tests correctly or that the result does not mean what the prosecution says it means. For example, for each test has a range at which it provides reliable results – and some tests aren't very reliable at all. This is a pretty tricky area of the law to argue, so getting help from a lawyer experienced in DUIs is essential.

Learn More and Get Help

If you are accused of a driving under the influence of marijuana when you got in an accident, your best plan will be to get help from a good lawyer. To look for a DUI lawyer near you, you can try searching Nolo's Lawyer Directory.

Even if you do hire a lawyer, it will save you time and lawyer's fees if you educate yourself about DUIs and accidents. Get more free legal information about Proving Fault for Car Accidents, Car Accidents and the Lawsuit Process, Dealing with a DUI Charge, and Working with a Lawyer. If you want more in depth information about DUIs and other traffic tickets, read Beat Your Ticket: Go to Court and Win, by David Brown (Nolo), which dedicates a chapter to DUIs.

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