In the case of Commonwealth v. Mark J. Davis, the highest court in Massachusetts has recently ruled that police officers can arrest for DUI Drugs based on the officer’s observations.
The ruling stems from a 2015 arrest made by then Massachusetts State Police Major Daniel Risteen. Major Risteen observed speeding, weaving, and erratic operation on the Route 90, the Mass. Turnpike. He noticed telltale signs of marijuana use such as red, glassy, droopy, and “heavy” eyes. He also observed slow and lethargic speech. He testified in court that the passengers also appeared to be high on marijuana. He detected strong marijuana odors coming from the vehicle and the driver admitted that he had smoked marijuana a couple of hours prior to driving.
Major Risteen determined that he had probable cause to arrest the driver for OUI Drugs. The arrest led to the discovery of an illegal firearm, oxycodone pills, and marijuana. The Supreme Judicial Court ruled that the arrest for operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of marijuana was valid and justified based on the Major’s observations of the driver’s appearance, demeanor, and behavior during the motor vehicle stop.
It is a crime in Massachusetts to drive if substances such as alcohol or marijuana diminish the driver’s ability to safely operate the motor vehicle. The driver does not have to be “drunk” or “high on drugs.” All that the law requires is diminished capacity to safely operate by reason of drugs or alcohol. Even legal drugs can result in a DUI charge. Police officers and other lay witnesses are allowed to testify regarding their observations of impairment.
Here, the driver had trouble keeping his eyes open and following simple instructions. He had trouble focusing and his coordination was slow. Also, he admitted to marijuana use.
With the legalization of marijuana, Massachusetts Police Officers will be on the lookout for impaired drivers and the number of DUI drug prosecutions is likely to increase. A DUI drugs conviction carries the same license suspension penalties as DUI liquor and all repeat offenders will be required to use an ignition interlock device, even if the conviction is for drugs and not alcohol.