The Arizona Supreme Court recently ruled on a case involving its DUI metabolite statute, a statute which is very similar to Utah’s. In Arizona v. Harris, the Arizona Supreme Court addressed whether the presence of a drug metabolite in a driver’s blood that does not cause the driver to be impaired should be illegal given the Legislature’s intent to penalize impaired driving.
In Harris the defendant was pulled over in his car for speeding and unsafe lane changes. The law enforcement officer who pulled him over suspected him to be impaired. The defendant admitted to smoking some marijuana the night before he was pulled over and he also voluntarily submitted to a blood test which revealed Carboxy-THC. Defendant was charged with DUI for being the slightest degree impaired and for DUI metabolite which prohibits a person driving a vehicle if he has any drug or its metabolite in his blood.
The State dismissed the DUI impairment charge and then the justice court dismissed the DUI metabolite charge on grounds that it did not believe the Legislature intended to include every single metabolite, especially those drugs that do not impair an individual. The superior court affirmed the justice court’s ruling but the court of appeals reversed it.
The Arizona Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals finding that interpreting the metabolite statute to extend to all byproducts would lead to an absurd result for the following reasons:
- It would create criminal liability regardless of how long the metabolite remains in the driver’s system or whether it has any impairing effect.
- It would criminalize otherwise legal conduct (e.g., medical marijuana).
- It would allow the prosecution of an individual who drives after ingesting a legal substance that shares a nonimpairing metabolite with a proscribed substance.
Based on these absurd results, the court then found that the Legislature could only have intended to prohibit driving with any amount of an impairing substance resulting from a drug.
This is the right result in this case and hopefully Utah will follow Arizona’s lead. It makes absolutely no sense to criminalize the mere presence of a non-impairing drug in a person’s blood. Good job Arizona.