One day after a trash truck driver was acquitted in a fatal crash outside Charlottesville, Virginia, involving an Amtrak train carrying members of Congress, a prosecutor wants lawmakers to help hold drug-impaired drivers responsible.
One day after a trash truck driver was acquitted in last year’s fatal crash outside Charlottesville involving an Amtrak train carrying members of Congress, Albemarle County prosecutor Robert Tracci wants lawmakers to help hold drug-impaired drivers responsible.
While blood alcohol content levels are admissible in all states in drunken driving cases, Virginia does not have any impaired driving laws that deal with driving while high on drugs.
Virginia lawyer David Heilberg, who was not involved in the case involving Dana Naylor, who was initially charged with involuntary manslaughter and maiming while under the influence, says the blood and breath tests are accepted as proof of intoxication.
Leading up to trial, prosecutors said no alcohol was found in Naylor’s blood or urine, but high levels of THC typically derived from marijuana were present in Naylor’s system.
The maiming charge was dismissed, after the judge ruled prosecutors could not introduce evidence about THC findings.
Tracci told WTOP 11 states have zero tolerance laws for marijuana, while 5 have per se laws, in which measurement of THC levels past an established standard are accepted as proof of impaired driving.
“In Virginia, there’s no law to say ‘if you have this level of THC in your bloodstream that we can presume you’re intoxicated,’” Heilberg said.
In Naylor’s case, Tracci said jurors never heard about high levels of THC, “because the judge said the science was so tenuous that she didn’t allow the jury the hear the evidence.”
“The states that have become more permissive of marijuana, the trade-off is we need an objective, verifiable threshold to use in court,” Tracci said. “Public safety requires, and the law demands some mechanism to more readily consider whether people are driving under the influence of marijuana.”
Tracci said he is hopeful lawmakers in Richmond will look at this case, as a reminder that prosecutors are currently hamstrung by lack of drug-specific laws.
Heilberg said it may take some time for such a bill to become law in Virginia.
“Until the scientific community comes up with standards that are rigorously and properly tested, enactment of such a law might not even be Constitutional,” said Heilberg. “We could be years away until marijuana is thoroughly tested, to see if what’s in your blood, all by itself, can prove significant impairment.”
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