Superior Court Clarifies Probable Cause Standard for Marijuana Related DUI Arrest
In Commonwealth v. Jones, 121 A.3d 524 (Pa. Super. 2015), the Pennsylvania Superior Court addressed whether probable cause evidence exists to conduct an arrest for driving under the influence (DUI), when the driver of a motor vehicle is the sole occupant and an officer smells the odor of burnt marijuana. Mr. Jones had been stopped for a suspended registration. Following the vehicle stop, the officer approached Mr. Jones and immediately noticed the odor of burnt marijuana emanating from the vehicle. As a result, the officer placed Mr. Jones into custody and requested that he submit to a chemical test of his blood, to which, Mr. Jones agreed. It was later determined that Mr. Jones had a quantity of marijuana metabolites in his system, which resulted in him being charged with DUI.
The Superior Court specifically addressed whether the officer had the right to detain Mr. Jones and request a blood test based solely on the smell of marijuana emanating from the vehicle. The Court determined that a police officer merely needs reasonable grounds to believe that a person was driving under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance to be able to administer a blood test. The reasonable grounds standard is the equivalent of probable cause. Therefore, the Court advised that an officer who has “knowledge of sufficient facts and circumstances, gained through trustworthy information, to warrant a prudent man in the belief that a crime has been committed” may detain a suspect. Jones, 121 A.3d at 528. Applying the facts of the case to the law, the Superior Court held that the officer possessed reasonable grounds to detain Mr. Jones and request he submit to a blood draw, since the officer unquestionably smelled burnt marijuana and Mr. Jones was the sole occupant of the vehicle.
It is important to note that alcohol and controlled substances are treated very differently for DUI purposes. An alcohol related DUI occurs when an individual has imbibed a sufficient amount of alcohol such that they are incapable of safe driving or has an amount of alcohol in their system equal to or greater than .08 percent within two hours of driving, operating or being in physical control of the movement of a motor vehicle. With respect to controlled substance DUI cases, Pennsylvania law provides that an individual may not drive, operate or be in actual physical control of a motor vehicle with any amount of a controlled substance in their system. In other words, an individual need not be impaired or incapable of safe driving in a DUI controlled substance case. While the prosecution must be able to establish a minimum detection level concerning a controlled substance before it is admissible in a DUI case, the minimum detection levels that have been established for Pennsylvania are very low and in some cases, even trace amounts of a controlled substances in an individual’s system can result in a DUI charge.
DUI cases often involve significant penalties, including a driver’s license suspension period, mandatory incarceration and mandatory fines. Therefore, it is essential that you have a knowledgeable and trustworthy attorney review your case, before going to court. Scott MacNair and Daniel Keane, attorneys at Clemons Richter & Reiss, PC, are extremely experienced DUI attorneys, who will provide you with the most effective representation to minimize or avoid these significant consequences.