Calif. groups support bill to strengthen drugged driving rules

March 28, 2013 7:34:35 PM PDT
Driving under the influence of alcohol is clearly illegal. But when it comes to drugs, there's no set standard. Some lawmakers and law enforcement officials want to change that.

CHP Officer Justin McGrory died in the line of duty two years ago. He was hit by a car as he was writing a ticket on the side of a highway. The driver tested positive for drugs, but his court case ended in a mistrial.

"They still had people in the jury who said there was nothing wrong with smoking marijuana and driving so it was a hung jury," said the officer's father, Bob McGrory. "In California we don't have a level of impairment for drugs like we do alcohol."

"It makes it difficult for not only prosecutors to present the case but to present clear instructions to our citizens who serve on the jury," San Francisco Police Commander Mikail Ali said.

On Thursday, Officer McGrory's family and groups representing police chiefs and narcotics officers announced they were supporting State Senate Bill 289.

It would make it a crime, with few exceptions, for drivers who test positive for even a trace of drugs. That would include most prescription medication and medical marijuana.

"Drugged" driving is on the rise. A recent study by the Office of Traffic Safety has found that more drivers are now testing positive for drugs that may impair driving than those who test positive for alcohol.

But prosecuting those cases is difficult. Even if drug tests turn out positive, prosecutors currently have to convince juries that there's a direct correlation between the drivers' erratic driving and the drugs in their bodies. Supporters of SB289 say all that will change if the bill becomes law.

"It will be against the law to drive with any detectible amount of controlled substances in their system," said Frank Hartig with the California Narcotics Officers Association.

"I think this bill is pretty crazy," said San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi. He believes the bill is unworkable and will result in drivers being falsely charged, "Cocaine can stay in your system for as long as seven days. So you may be driving around completely sober but still have a trace of the drug in your system."

Seventeen other states have similar laws on the books.


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