Totally Sober Yet DUI – Part I

Handcuffs

Even unimpaired drivers can end up cuffed in Pennsylvania

75 Pa.C.S. § 3802(d). That’s Pennsylvania’s law which makes it illegal to drive after using a controlled substance. This section is important for those who use weed because it means Pennsylvania drivers who are totally sober can be stopped, arrested, charged with a controlled substance DUI, convicted, and imprisoned even though he or she was stone cold sober. I pasted the statute at the end of this post so you can read it for yourself. Now, though, I will explain how a sober driver can end up in legal hot water.

Let’s say a driver last smoked 24 hours before getting behind the wheel. He is totally sober, safe to drive, and feels no effects from that long gone spliff. Anyway, off he goes. Only his left rear brake light is out.

Just before he pulls into the parking lot of the building where he works, he notices the red and blue lights in his rear view mirror. He knows he wasn’t speeding, so what could it be? The officer quickly tells him it’s the burnt out brake light. Our driver breathes a sigh of relief.

However, as the officer talks to the driver through the window, he notices an empty Ziploc bag and a lighter sitting in plain view on the front passenger seat. Suddenly, the officer “notices” the odor of cannabis permeating the car. He asks our driver to exit the vehicle.

Our driver, however, was regretting that he hadn’t thrown out the Ziploc from the ham salad sandwich he ate in the car two weeks ago. His thinking and regretting caused him to miss the officer’s request to exit his car. Finally, on the third request, he stepped out. Unfortunately for him, he parked his car on a gravel covered slope. As if on cue, then, he slipped as soon as his feet hit the pavemet. Just a little slip, mind you. He didn’t fall. But the officer had seen enough. The cop created a mental PC list:

  • Delayed response to simple commands
  • Odor of marijuana permeating the vehicle
  • Paraphernalia within reach of the driver (the baggie and lighter)
  • Driver unsteady on his feet

So our officer pops the question: “Just tell me the truth and we’ll both be able to go home a lot sooner. Have you smoked weed recently?”

To which our driver responds “yeah, but it was over 24 hours ago.”

To which our officer responds “I am placing you under arrest for suspicion of driving under the influence of a controlled substance. You have the right….”

Stay tuned for Part II of our tale of innocence and woe. What will happen to our driver? The officer? The taillight?


75 Pa.C.S. § 3802(d)

d)  Controlled substances. –An individual may not drive, operate or be in actual physical control of the movement of a vehicle under any of the following circumstances:

   (1) There is in the individual’s blood any amount of a:

      (i) Schedule I controlled substance, as defined in the act of April 14, 1972 (P.L.233, No.64), known as The Controlled Substance, Drug, Device and Cosmetic Act;

      (ii) Schedule II or Schedule III controlled substance, as defined in The Controlled Substance, Drug, Device and Cosmetic Act, which has not been medically prescribed for the individual; or

      (iii) metabolite of a substance under subparagraph (i) or (ii).


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