Hartford DUI defense attorney marijuana impairmentThe United States has a long and complicated history with cannabis. Back in colonial times, hemp -- which is a non-intoxicating strain of the cannabis plant -- was a very important crop for early settlers. Virginia even passed a law in 1619 requiring every farm in the colony to grow hemp. By 1937, the Marijuana Tax Act was passed and effectively banned the sale and use of marijuana, though the act was replaced by the Controlled Substances Act in the 1970s.

Now that 10 states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational marijuana, and 33 states have legalized medical marijuana, the prevalence of marijuana-related DUI is of concern to lawmakers across the country. In the state of Connecticut, medical marijuana is legal, but recreational marijuana is not legal -- yet.

Current Connecticut Marijuana DUI Laws

Like most states, Connecticut’s laws concerning DUI mostly refer to alcohol, but they do mention drugs as well. According to Connecticut law, operating a vehicle while under the influence of an intoxicating drug is illegal. Penalties for a drug DUI can vary, depending on the circumstances of the case. For a basic DUI charge of operating a vehicle while under the influence of marijuana, a conviction can get you up to a six-month jail sentence, $500 to $1,000 in fines, and a 45-day driver’s license suspension, with the requirement that an ignition interlock device be installed in the driver’s vehicle for one year after the conviction.

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refusal, Hartford criminal defense attorneyIt can be very intimidating to get pulled over by the police, regardless of the circumstances. You see flashing lights behind you, and you hope they are intended for someone else. When you realize that they are for you, your heart starts beating a little faster as you pull off to the side of the road. You stop the car, and it seems like hours before the police officer gets out and approaches your car. Depending on the time of day and the circumstances of the situation, the officer is likely to ask a common question: “Have you been drinking at all tonight?” How you answer that question—along with your overall appearance, demeanor, and other factors—may prompt the officer to ask you to submit to a blood-alcohol content (BAC) test, most often in the form of a breathalyzer. Should you agree to take the test?

Two Different Requests

There are two very distinct phases of a traffic stop involving suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. The first phase is almost purely investigational. The officer gathers as much information as he or she can regarding factors such as how you were driving the vehicle, any presence of slurred speech, the smell of alcohol, and your presence of mind. At this stage, an officer may ask you to participate in field sobriety tests or to take a breathalyzer, and you have the right to refuse with no criminal or administrative consequences. Keep in mind that a test refusal during the first phase may prompt the officer to push a little deeper, looking for other possible signs of your impairment.

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BAC test, Hartford criminal defense lawyerIn late April, the nation’s high court heard oral arguments in a case whose impact could be felt around the country. At issue before the Supreme Court is whether or not criminal penalties for refusing blood-alcohol content (BAC) test without a warrant violate a person’s Fourth Amendment rights. As it currently stands, 13 states maintain laws that make the refusal of such tests a crime, separate from the offense of driving under the influence (DUI). Many other states, like Connecticut, provide administrative penalties for refusing such a test rather than criminal prosecution.

Driving as a Constitutional Right

While the United States Constitution was drafted before the advent of the automobile, many believe that the ability to drive should be considered a right, not merely a privilege. The distinction is very important, as a privilege can more easily be conditional, while a right must be protected.  The U.S. Supreme Court has never ruled that driving is a constitutional right, but has explicitly recognized the right to travel. If driving is a right, then a driver cannot be asked to waive his or her Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable warrantless searches as a condition of driving.

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marijuana DUI, Hartford criminal defense attorneyWhen you are pulled over on suspicion of driving under the influence (DUI), it is reasonable to presume that you might be asked to submit to chemical testing for blood-alcohol content, or BAC. The most common form of testing is a breath test, commonly referred to as breathalyzer, which calculates the concentration of alcohol in a person’s blood based on alcohol detected in a breath sample. In all 50 states, the legal limit for BAC (for a non-commercial driver over the age of 21) is 0.08 percent. A test that registers above the limit creates a presumption of DUI based on a quantitative standard.

Over the last several years, six states have instituted similar standards regarding the amount of marijuana in a driver’s system. With decriminalization and legalization efforts ongoing around the country and the implementation of medical marijuana programs in about two dozen states including Connecticut, many law enforcement officials believe that there needs to be a quantifiable way of determining that a driver is under the influence of marijuana. A new study from a very reputable source, however, suggests that the existing laws—along with those pending in other states—covering marijuana blood tests have no scientific basis, and even goes so far to recommend scrapping the statutes.

Major Concerns

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OUI, DUI, Connecticut DUI Defense LawyerFor decades, interest groups and awareness campaigns have sought to educate the public about the dangers of driving under the influence (DUI). Photos of mangled vehicles, staggering statistics, and tragic stories of DUI fatalities have certainly succeeded to a degree, as virtually nobody would claim that driving drunk is a safe choice. Sometimes, however, there seems to be a significant divide between what an individual sees as drunk driving and what the law says. Operating under the influence, or OUI, as it is known in Connecticut, is a serious charge and one that can have long-lasting effects on those who are convicted.

OUI Laws in Connecticut

There are two sections of the Connecticut General Statutes that form the basis of OUI or DUI laws in the state. The first applicable section establishes the legal definition of operating under the influence as the operation of “a motor vehicle (1) while under the influence of intoxicating liquor or any drug or both, or (2) while such a person has an elevated blood alcohol content.” A driver may not operate a private vehicle with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .08 percent or higher. For a commercial vehicle, elevated BAC begins at .04 percent.

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