Category Archives: Drug Recognition Expert

Bellingham’s Most Dangerous Intersections

Informative article by David Rasbach of the Bellingham Herald reports on statistics provided by the Bellingham Police Department Traffic Division showing Bellingham’s most dangerous intersection.

Apparently, at least in terms of the sheer number of accidents, West Bakerview Road and Northwest Drive reigns as the most dangerous intersection in the city.

In a distracted driving study conducted by its traffic division from January 2016 through June 2017, Bellingham Police received 1,350 reports of accidents within city limits, regardless of severity or injury. Of those, 43 accidents occurred at the intersection of Bakerview and Northwest — the highest total of any intersection in town.

Rasbach also reports that three of the top four most dangerous intersections during the 18-month study were in that same corridor: West Bakerview Road and Eliza Avenuehad the third highest accident total with 22 wrecks, while West Bakerview Road and Cordata Parkway was fourth highest with 18.

The only intersection breaking up Bakerview’s stranglehold on the top of Bellingham’s dangerous intersections list — Lakeway Drive and Lincoln Street, which had 25 reported accidents — is very similar, with two busy shopping centers and a school occupying three of the four corners. Nearby Lakeway Drive and King Street tied for sixth-most dangerous with Woburn Street and Barkley Boulevard with 14 reported accidents, each.

Also, the lone roundabout at Cordata Parkway and West Kellogg Road had 16 accidents reported.

Please contact my office if you, a family member or friend are criminally charged for traffic-related incidents. Unfortunately, it’s very easy to be charged with DUI, Reckless Driving, Negligent Driving, Driving While License Suspended, Eluding and/or numerous traffic citations. Bellingham’s dangerous intersections only exacerbate the situation and make it more likely that an unlawful pretextual pullover will happen.

Most of all, drive safe!

5 Types of Alcoholics

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Apparently, there are several types of alcoholics.

Scientists at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) conducted a survey of 43,093 individuals, screening them for alcohol dependence as well as a wide range of other factors. The NIAAA researchers found that there were five distinct patterns of alcohol dependence.

YOUNG ADULT SUBTYPE

This is the most prevalent subtype, making up 31.5 percent of people who are alcohol dependent. The average age of dependent young adults is 25 years, and they first became dependent at an average of age 20. They tend to drink less frequently than people of other types (an average of 143 days a year). However, most of their drinking is binge drinking – they drink five or more drinks on an average of 104 (73 percent) of those days. On drinking days, the average maximum number of drinks is 14. This pattern of alcohol use is more likely to be hazardous than non-binging patterns.

Young adult alcohol dependents are 2.5 times more likely to be male than female. About 75 percent have never been married, 36.5 percent are still in school, and 54 percent work full time. Approximately 22 percent have a first- or second-degree family member who is also dependent on alcohol. Compared to other types of alcoholics, young adults are less likely to have psychiatric disorders or legal problems. Fewer than 1 percent of them have antisocial personality disorder. About 32 percent also smoke cigarettes, and 25 percent also use cannabis.

Only 8.7 percent of young adult alcohol dependents have ever sought treatment for their drinking problem. If they do choose to seek help, they tend to prefer 12-step programs over specialty treatment clinics or private professional practices.

The NIAAA reports that four out of five college students drink alcohol and half of those who do binge drink. They also note that each year, among college students between the ages of 18 and 24:

  • At least 1,825 students die from alcohol-related accidental injuries.
  • Over 690,000 students are assaulted by another student who has been drinking.
  • More than 97,000 students are victims of alcohol-related date rape or sexual assault.
  • About 599,000 students are unintentionally injured while they are under the influence of alcohol.
  • Over 150,000 students develop alcohol-related health problems.
  • About 25 percent of students experience school-related consequences from their alcohol consumption, such as being late to or missing classes, falling behind on coursework, doing poorly on homework, exams or papers, and receiving overall lower grades.

YOUNG ANTISOCIAL SUBTYPE

Young antisocial alcohol dependents make up 21.1 percent of alcoholics – 54 percent of them have antisocial personality disorder (ASPD). ASPD is characterized by at least three of the following:

  • Recurring criminal activities
  • Regular fights or assaults
  • Lack of regard for the safety of others
  • Lack of remorse
  • Impulsiveness
  • Deceitfulness
  • Irresponsibility

They are also young (average age 26 years), and they have the earliest age of onset of drinking (average 16 years) and the earliest age of alcohol dependence (average 18 years). Young antisocial alcoholics drank an average of 201 days in the last year, binge drinking (consuming five or more drinks) on an average of 161 (80 percent) of those days. When they drink, their maximum number of drinks is 17, the highest of any subtype of alcoholic.

About 76 percent of this type of alcoholic are male. Only 7.6 percent have received a college degree, although another 13.4 percent are still in school. Approximately 47 percent are employed full time. Family incomes average around $32,000, the lowest among the subtypes (alongside the chronic severe subtype).

Over half of young antisocial alcoholics (52.5 percent) have a close family member who is also alcohol dependent. In addition, they also have high rates of psychiatric disorders:

They also have high rates of substance abuse:

Almost 35 percent of young antisocial alcoholics have sought help for their alcohol-dependence problems. They tend to go to self-help groups, detoxification programs, and specialty treatment programs, and they have high rates of participation in treatments offered by individual private health care providers.

The NIAAA reports that alcohol and ASPD make for a dangerous combination. People with ASPD are 21 times more likely to develop alcohol dependence in their lifetimes. Meanwhile, alcohol is more likely to increase aggressive behaviors in people with ASPD than in people without. This may be because alcohol interferes with executive functioning in the brain, which regulates and inhibits aggressive behavior. People with ASPD also show impaired executive functioning, which may make them particularly vulnerable to this effect.

FUNCTIONAL SUBTYPE

Functional alcoholics make up 19.4 percent of alcohol-dependent individuals. This group tends to be older (average age 41 years), has a later age of first drinking (average 19 years), and a later onset of alcohol dependence (average age of 37 years). They tend to drink alcohol every other day (an average of 181 days per year), and they consume five or more drinks on an average of 98 (54 percent) of those days. On drinking days, they tend to consume a maximum of 10 drinks.

About 62 percent of functional alcoholics work fulltime, 3.6 percent are in school fulltime, and 5 percent are retired. Nearly 26 percent have a college degree or higher, and average household income is almost $60,000, the highest among any of the subtypes. Approximately 40 percent are female, and nearly 50 percent are married.

About 31 percent of functional alcoholics have a close family member who also has alcohol dependence. They have moderate rates of major depression(24 percent) and smoking cigarettes (43 percent), and low rates of anxiety disorders, other substance use disorders, and the lowest rates of having legal problems (fewer than 1 percent). Fewer than 1 percent of these individuals have antisocial personality disorder.

Only 17 percent of functional alcoholics have ever sought help for their alcohol dependence. Those who do tend to make use of 12-step programs and private health care professionals. Functional alcoholics make up 19.4 percent of alcohol-dependent individuals. This group tends to be older (average age 41 years), has a later age of first drinking (average 19 years), and a later onset of alcohol dependence (average age of 37 years). They tend to drink alcohol every other day (an average of 181 days per year), and they consume five or more drinks on an average of 98 (54 percent) of those days. On drinking days, they tend to consume a maximum of 10 drinks.

INTERMEDIATE FAMILIAL ALCOHOLICS

Intermediate familial alcoholics make up 18.8 percent of all alcoholics. Nearly half (47 percent) of them have a close family member who is also an alcoholic. They have an average age of 38 years, began drinking at almost age 17, and developed alcohol dependence at an average age of 32 years. Intermediate familial alcoholics drink on an average of 172 days a year, consuming five or more drinks on 93 (54 percent) of those days, with a maximum of 10 drinks.

They have the highest rates of employment among alcoholics, with 68 percent working full time and with an average family income of nearly $50,000 a year. Nearly 20 percent have a college degree. About 64 percent are male, while about 38 percent are married and 21 percent are divorced.

Intermediate familial alcoholics have elevated rates of mental illness:

They also have higher rates of substance use/abuse:

  • 57 percent smoke cigarettes
  • 25 percent have cannabis use disorder
  • 20 percent have cocaine use disorder

Almost 27 percent of intermediate familial alcohol dependents have sought help for their drinking problem. They tend to prefer self-help groups, detoxification programs, specialty treatment programs, and individual private health care providers.

CHRONIC SEVERE SUBTYPE

This is the rarest and most dangerous type of alcoholism, making up 9.2 percent of alcoholics. Chronic severe alcoholics average 38 years of age. They begin drinking early (at 16 years) and develop alcohol dependence later (around 29 years of age). This group has the highest rates of drinking, consuming alcohol on an average of 247.5 days a year and binge drinking on 172 (69 percent) of them, with a maximum of 15 drinks.

The majority of chronic severe alcoholics are male (65 percent). They also have the highest divorce rates, with 25.1 percent divorced and 8.6 percent separated, and only 28.7 percent married. Only 9 percent have a college degree, and they also have the lowest employment rate, with only 43 percent of chronic severe alcoholics employed full time and 7.6 percent both unemployed and permanently disabled.

Chronic severe alcoholics have the highest rate of family members who also experience alcohol dependence, at 77 percent. They are most likely to have mental illnesses:

  • 55 percent have depression
  • 47 percent have antisocial personality disorder (the second-highest rate, after young antisocial alcoholics)
  • 34 percent have bipolar disorder
  • 26 percent have social phobia
  • 25 percent have dysthymia
  • 24 percent have generalized anxiety disorder
  • 17 percent have panic disorder

Substance abuse is also common:

  • 75 percent smoke cigarettes
  • 58 percent have cannabis use disorder
  • 39 percent have cocaine use disorder
  • 24 percent have opioid use disorder

Chronic severe alcoholics experience the most pervasive symptoms:

  • Highest rate of emergency room visits related to drinking of any subtype
  • 94 percent drink larger/longer amounts than intended
  • 92 percent drink despite experiencing problems from drinking, such as at work, school, in relationships, or while driving
  • 88 percent experience withdrawal symptoms
  • 83 percent have repeatedly tried to reduce their drinking
  • 64 percent spend significant time recovering from drinking
  • 48 percent reduced meaningful activities, like hobbies or family time, because of alcohol

Almost 66 percent of chronic severe alcoholics have sought help for their alcoholism. They have the highest rates of attendance at self-help groups, detoxification programs, and specialty rehabilitation programs, and the highest rates of treatment in inpatient programs. When seeking treatment, they tend to turn to social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists, and private physicians.

Alcoholism is a debilitating disease. Making matters worse, it can lead people to commit crimes they otherwise would not commit. DUI is the perfect example of a crime which necessarily involves alcohol or drug abuse. Fortunately, there are defenses. Voluntary Intoxication and/or Diminished Capacity might apply. Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member suffer from alcoholism and are charged with a crime. Perhaps good defenses combined with hard work and strong dedication to a alcohol treatment program might persuade the Prosecutor to reduce or dismiss the charges.

“Furtive Movements”

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In State v. Weyand, the WA Supreme Court held that officers lacked sufficient facts to justify a Terry stop of the defendant. Walking quickly while looking up and down the street at 2:40 a.m. is an innocuous act, which cannot justify intruding into people’s private affairs.

BACKGROUND FACTS

On December 22, 2012, at 2:40 in the morning, Corporal Bryce Henry saw a car parked near 95 Cullum Avenue in Richland, Washington, that had not been there 20 minutes prior. The area is known for extensive drug history. Corporal Henry did not recognize the car and ran the license plate through an I/LEADS (Intergraph Law Enforcement Automated System) database. However, that license plate search revealed nothing of consequence about the vehicle or its registered owner.

After parking his car, Corporal Henry saw Weyand and another male leave 95 Cullum. As the men walked quickly toward the car, they looked up and down the street. The driver looked around once more before getting into the car. Weyand got into the passenger seat. Based on these observations and Corporal Henry’s knowledge of the extensive drug history at 95 Cullum, he conducted a Terry stop of the car.

After stopping Weyand, Corporal Henry observed that Weyand’s eyes were red and glassy and his pupils were constricted. Corporal Henry is a drug recognition expert and believed that Weyand was under the influence of a narcotic. When Corporal Henry ran Weyand’ s name, he discovered an outstanding warrant and arrested Weyand. Corporal Henry searched Weyand incident to that arrest and found a capped syringe. Corporal Henry advised Weyand of his Miranda3 rights, and Weyand admitted that the substance in the syringe was heroin that he had bought from a resident inside 95 Cullum.

PROCEDURAL HISTORY

The State charged Weyand with one count of unlawful possession of a controlled substance. Weyand moved to suppress all evidence and statements under Criminal Rules (CrR) 3.5 and 3.6 and to dismiss the case against him. Weyand argued that the officer did not have sufficient individualized suspicion to conduct the investigatory stop.

After the hearing, the court concluded that the seizure was a lawful investigative stop. According to the court, Corporal Henry had reasonable suspicion to believe that Weyand was involved in criminal activity. The court found Weyand’s case distinct from State v. Doughty, because in this case there was actual evidence of drug activity at, as well as known drug users frequenting, 95 Cullum.

The court additionally found that Weyand knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily waived his Miranda rights; thus, all post-Miranda statements were admissible at trial. Weyand waived his right to a jury trial and agreed to submit the case to a stipulated facts trial. Finding that Weyand possessed a loaded syringe that contained heroin, the court found Weyand guilty of unlawful possession of a controlled substance.

Weyand appealed, and the Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction. It reasoned that the totality of the circumstances, coupled with the officer’s training and experience, showed that the officer had a reasonable, articulable suspicion that justified the stop. Those circumstances included “the long history of drug activity at 95 Cullum, the time of night, the 20 minute stop at the house, the brisk walking, and the glances up and down the street.”

LEGAL ISSUE

Whether the specific facts that led to the Terry stop would lead an objective person to form a reasonable suspicion that Weyand was engaged in criminal activity.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

The Court held that officers lacked sufficient facts to justify a Terry stop of the defendant. It reasoned that under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and article I, section 7 of the Washington Constitution, an officer generally may not seize a person without a warrant. There are, however, a few carefully drawn exceptions to the warrant requirement. The State bears the burden to show that a warrantless search or seizure falls into one of the narrowly drawn exceptions.

One of these exceptions is the Terry investigative stop. The Terry exception allows an officer to briefly detain a person for questioning, without a warrant, if the officer has reasonable suspicion that the person is or is about to be engaged in criminal activity. An officer may also briefly frisk the person if the officer has reasonable safety concerns to justify the protective frisk.

The Court found that the totality of the circumstances did not justify a warrantless seizure. It reasoned that in order to conduct a valid Terry stop, an officer must have reasonable suspicion of criminal activity based on specific and articulable facts known to the officer at the inception of the stop. To evaluate the reasonableness of the officer’s suspicion, Courts look at the totality of the circumstances known to the officer. The totality of circumstances includes the officer’s training and experience, the location of the stop, the conduct of the person detained, the purpose of the stop, and the amount of physical intrusion on the suspect’s liberty. The suspicion must be individualized to the person being stopped.

“Here, the trial court’s decision rested primarily on evidence that 95 Cullum was a
known drug location,” said the Court. “However, Corporal Henry did not observe current activity that would lead a reasonable observer to believe that criminal activity was taking place or about to take place in the residence.”

Furtive Movements

Also, the Court reasoned that reliance on ‘furtive movements’ as the basis for a Terry stop can be problematic. “Case law has not precisely defined such movements, and courts too often accept the label without questioning the breadth of the term.” It explained that ‘furtive movements’ are vague generalizations of what might be perceived as suspicious activity which does not provide a legal ( or factual) basis for a Terry stop.”

The Court quoted Judge Richard Posner in recognizing that “furtive movements,” standing alone, are a vague and unreliable indicator of criminality:

“Whether you stand still or move, drive above, below, or at the speed limit, you will be described by the police as acting suspiciously should they wish to stop or arrest you. Such subjective, promiscuous appeals to an ineffable intuition should not be credited.”

With that, the WA Supreme Court reasoned that simply labeling a suspect’s action a “furtive movement,” without explaining how it gives rise to a reasonable and articulable suspicion, is not sufficient to justify a Terry stop. Furthermore, reasoned the Court, police cannot justify a suspicion of criminal conduct based only on a person’s location in a high crime area:

“It is beyond dispute that many members of our society live, work, and spend their waking hours in high crime areas, a description that can be applied to parts of many of our cities. That does not automatically make those individuals proper subjects for criminal investigation.”

Consequently, the WA Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals and hold that walking quickly and looking around, even after leaving a house with extensive drug history at 2:40 in the morning, is not enough to create a reasonable, articulable suspicion of criminal activity justifying a Terry stop.

My opinion? Excellent decision. I’m very impressed the Court addressed the term “furtive movements” and put it in perspective. Law enforcement officers regularly use this catch-phrase to describe suspicious behavior allowing them stop/search/seize people. Although officer safety is a primary concern and a very good reason to search people who are already in police custody and making “furtive movements” in the presence of officers, it cannot be a basis for stopping and searching people who are simply going about their business walking down the street. Great decision.

DUI: Men vs. Women

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Great news article from the Bellingham Herald discusses the physiological differences in alcohol impairment levels experienced between men and women.

In Who Gets Arrested More for DUI: Men or Women?,  author Doug Dahl states that over the past couple decades, alcohol-impaired driving has steadily been decreasing, however, the reduction in impaired driving doesn’t apply to women. Dahl is the Target Zero Manager for the Whatcom County Traffic Safety Task Force.

Apparently, in a recent 10-year period, DUI arrests for men decreased by 7.5 percent while DUI arrests for women increased by 28.8 percent.

“According to the CDC, the average weight of an American man is 196 pounds, while the average American woman weighs 166 pounds,” said Dahl.  “Also, because of differences in enzymes, hormones and body fat percentages between men and women, women generally metabolize alcohol at a slower rate.” Simply put, says Dahl, women get drunk faster and stay drunk longer than men:

“To be clear, both of our imaginary people in this example shouldn’t drive. A BAC of .06 will cause impairment. It’s a big enough concern that legislators in some states, including Washington, have proposed reducing the legal limit to .05.”

Mr. Dahl further states that the level of impairment between a BAC of .06 and .09 is significant. According to a study of impaired driving crashes, a driver with a BAC of .06 is about 1.6 times more likely to cause a crash than a sober driver. For a driver with a BAC of .09, that jumps up to 3.5 times more likely. “Don’t judge your own impairment based on how someone else handles the same amount of alcohol, and always have a plan for a safe ride home before going out for drinks,” says Dahl.

Regardless of your gender, please contact my office if you, a friend or relative faces charges of DUI. These charges are serious, threaten careers and can significantly limit one’s driving privileges.

State Senate Passes Bill Making Fourth DUI a Felony.

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The WA State Senate has unanimously passed a bill that would make driving under the influence (DUI) a felony if the driver has three or more prior offenses on their criminal record within 10 years.

Senate Bill 5037 passed Thursday and now heads to the House, where it has stalled in previous years. The bill’s sponsors are as follows: Padden, Frockt, O’Ban, Darneille, Miloscia, Kuderer, Zeiger, Carlyle, Pearson, Conway, Rolfes, Palumbo, Angel, and Wellman.

Under the measure, a person who is charged with a fourth DUI, and has no other criminal history, would be subject to a standard sentencing range of 13 to 17 months in jail.

However, this bill allows first-time felony offenders to spend up to six months in jail, instead of nine, and finish out the rest of their sentence under supervision, such as attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and other programs.

My opinion? We shouldn’t be surprised. Over the past 20 years, Americans have seen a significant increase in the harsh penalties for intoxicated drivers. Perhaps this is necessary move given the thousands of lives lost to drunk drivers. Speaking as a criminal defense attorney, there’s serious question as to whether people commit these violations purely out of willful disregard for the law and for the safety of others or because of an untreated mental illness or alcohol addiction. Nevertheless, public outcry has led to increased sentences.

Many attorneys in Whatcom County and Skagit County claim to represent clients in DUI cases, but not all attorneys have the experience and successes of attorney Alexander F. Ransom.  To learn more about DUI laws or if you have been charged with a driving offense, make your first call count. Call the Law Office of Alexander F. Ransom today.

New Federal Data Shows Decrease in Drunk Driving Rates

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According to reporter Christopher Ingraham of the Washington Post, new federal statistics show that the rate of drunken driving in the United States fell to a 13-year low in 2014, the latest year for which data is available. The rate of driving under the influence of illicit drugs has not changed meaningfully in recent years but remains slightly lower than it was in 2008 and 2009 at the start of the Obama administration.

Here’s a summary of some other findings:

  • In 2014, 27.7 million people aged 16 or older (11.1 percent) drove under the influence of alcohol in the past year, and 10.1 million (4.1 percent) drove under the influence of illicit drugs in the past year. About 7.0 million (2.8 percent) drove under the influence of alcohol and illicit drugs in the past year, including 5.9 million (2.4 percent) who drove under the simultaneous influence of alcohol and illicit drugs in the past year.
  • The percentage of people driving under the influence generally increased with age through the young adult years and then declined with age thereafter; percentages were higher among males than females.
  • The percentage of people aged 16 or older who drove under the influence of alcohol in 2014 (11.1 percent) was lower than the percentages in 2002 through 2012 (ranging from 11.8 to 15.3 percent).
  • The percentage of people aged 16 or older who drove under the influence of illicit drugs was lower in 2014 (4.1 percent) than in 2002 through 2006 and in 2009 through 2010.
  • The percentage of people aged 16 or older who drove under the simultaneous influence of alcohol and illicit drugs was lower in 2014 (2.4 percent) than in 2002 through 2010 (ranging from 2.9 to 3.4 percent).

Ingraham reported that although experts caution that while the trend is heading in the right direction, there’s still a lot of work to be done. “Although it is heartening to see a downward trend in levels of driving under the influence of alcohol, it still kills thousands of people each year and shatters the lives of friends and loved ones left behind,” said Frances Harding, director of the Center for Substance Abuse Prevention at SAMHSA, the agency that produces the survey.

The SAMHSA survey showed that young adults — particularly men ages 21 to 25 — had by far the highest impaired driving rates. More than 1 in 5 men ages 21 to 25 drove drunk in 2014, nearly 1 in 7 drove under the influence of other drugs, and roughly 1 in 12 drove while simultaneously drunk and drugged.

One the other hand, young adults have also seen the greatest reductions in drunken driving prevalence over the past 13 years. Since 2002, the drunken driving rate fell by fewer than three percentage points among drivers age 26 and older. But the rate among drivers ages 21 to 25 dropped by more than 10 percentage points. And the prevalence among the youngest drivers, ages 16 to 20, fell by more than half.

Ingraham reports there’s no single factor driving the decline in drunken driving rates. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention credits interventions like strong drunken driving laws, public awareness campaigns, and ignition interlock systems that don’t allow drunk drivers to start cars.

Some states are experimenting with innovative programs that essentially take away the right to drink alcohol, period, for people convicted of certain alcohol-related crimes. There’s also evidence that ride-sharing services like Uber can reduce drunken driving rates, although not all researchers agree on this.

My opinion? This is extremely good news. Although it’s important to save lives by reducing traffic accidents through education, prevention, and all other possible measures; it’s equally important that defendants facing these criminal charges hire capable and competent defense counsel as soon as possible to protect their rights, review the evidence and ensure a fair trial when necessary.

Contact my office for a free consultation if you, a friend or family member face DUI or related charges.

What Happened After Voters Legalized Recreational Marijuana?

Reporter Christopher Ingraham of the Washington Post wrote an article discussing how that the availability of recreational marijuana — in Colorado and elsewhere — is having little to no effect on teens’ propensity to smoke weed.

COLORADO

In his article, Ingraham supports his claim with the official statistics out of Colorado through 2015. It’s also what federal data shows nationwide through this year. And it’s also backed up by other federal surveys of drug use in the states where marijuana is legal.

It appears the data on this point has been consistent enough that longtime skeptics of the merits of marijuana legalization, like Nora Volkow of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, are expressing surprise at the findings. “We had predicted based on the changes in legalization, culture in the U.S. as well as decreasing perceptions among teenagers that marijuana was harmful that [accessibility and use] would go up,” Volkow told U.S. News and World Report earlier this month. “But it hasn’t gone up.”

WASHINGTON

However, a study out Tuesday in the journal JAMA Pediatrics flies somewhat in the face of the new conventional marijuana wisdom. Examining marijuana use among high school students in Washington state two years before and after the vote to legalize in 2012, it finds that rates of marijuana use increased by about 3 percent among 8th- and 10th-graders over that period.

INTERPRETING THE FINDINGS

The authors posit that reduced stigma about marijuana use is one factor leading to the results that they observed.

“Our study suggests that legalization of marijuana in Washington reduced stigma and perceived risk of use,” said lead author Magdalena Cerdá of the University of California in Davis in a news release, “which could explain why younger adolescents are using more marijuana after legalization.”

The findings are something of a puzzle. The study found no change in marijuana use among 12th-graders in Washington state, which the authors said could be because the 12th-graders in the study were old enough that “they had already formed attitudes and beliefs related to marijuana use” before the legal change.

The study also found no change in use among students at any grade level in Colorado. The authors write that Colorado had a robust medical marijuana industry in place well before full legalization, which may have affected youth attitudes and behaviors there before the study period.

Among adolescents, the perceived harmfulness of marijuana has been declining for decades among all age groups. But at the same time, adolescent use of marijuana has been flat or falling. This has led some researchers, including Mark Kleiman of New York University, to rethink the nature of the link between what teens think about weed and whether they use it.

In an email, Kleiman pointed out that in Washington state, the recreational marijuana market didn’t open until halfway through 2014, and then only in limited form. That’s halfway through the “after” period (2013 to 2015) in the JAMA Pediatrics study.

“The effect of the legalization initiatives themselves on price and availability of cannabis really wasn’t felt until after” the study’s surveys were done, Kleiman said. “Any measured effect would be more likely the result of the political campaign around legalization than legalization itself.”

Indeed, the study’s authors agree with that assessment. “Simply legalizing an activity can change people’s views about it and can change their behaviors as well,” said co-author Deborah Hasin of Columbia University in an email.

 

Refusing Field Sobriety Test is Admissible as “Consciousness of Guilt.”

In State v. Mecham, the WA Supreme Court decided that Prosecutors in DUI trials may admit evidence that a defendant is declining field sobriety tests as evidence of consciousness of guilt.

FACTS

In 2011, Officer Campbell made a traffic stop of defendant Mark Tracy Mecham. Although Mecham’s driving showed no signs of intoxication, Mecham smelled of intoxicants and had slurred speech. The officer asked Mecham to perform voluntary field sobriety tests (FSTs), which would have involved Officer Campbell’s observing Mecham’s eye movements and ability to walk a straight line and stand on one leg. Mecham refused.

At trial, Mecham moved to suppress his refusal to perform the FSTs. Typically, trial courts grant this defense motion. In Mecham’s case, however, the trial court denied his motion and ruled that even if FSTs were a search, probable cause supported the search. Mecham’s refusal was admitted to the jury as evidence to support the Prosecutor’s theory that Mecham exhibited “Consciousness of Guilt.” The jury found Mecham guilty of DUI.

Eventually, Mecham’s case was appealed to the WA Supreme Court. He argued that his right to be free from unreasonable searches was violated when the trial court admitted evidence of his refusal to undergo FSTs.

THE DECISION

Unfortunately for Mecham, the WA Supreme Court disagreed and upheld his DUI conviction. In a deeply divided decision, the Court held that while a FST is a seizure, it is not a search either under article I, section 7 of the Washington Constitution or under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The State may, therefore, offer evidence of a defendant’s refusal to perform FSTs. Field sobriety tests may only be administered when the initial traffic stop was supported by reasonable suspicion and the officer has reasonable suspicion that the defendant was driving under the influence.

The lead majority opinion was authored by Justice Wiggins. Justice Fairhurst concurred in part and dissented in part. Justice Fairhurst would prohibit the administration of FSTs once the defendant is already under formal arrest for an offense other then DUI. Justice Johnson dissented on the grounds that the defendant had been told by the officer who administered the FSTs that they were voluntary. Finally, Justice Gordon McCloud dissented on the grounds that FSTs are searches.

My opinion?

I agree with Justice McCloud’s dissent. Here’s a portion:

“An FST can reveal information about a person’s body and medical history that are unquestionably private in nature. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), in addition to possible inebriation, FSTs can reveal a head injury, neurological disorder, brain tumors or damage, and some inner ear diseases. These conditions are not necessarily observable in the subject’s normal public behavior; they may well be revealed only by the special maneuvers the subject is directed to perform during the FST. Indeed, if an FST did not reveal information beyond what is readily observable by the general public, there would be no need to administer it in the first place. I therefore conclude that FSTs are searches under article I, section 7 of our state constitution.”

FSTs are a search. Period. Clearly, Officers who ask citizens to performs FSTs are seeking evidence of DUI. Because FSTs are a search, Mecham had a constitutional right to refuse to perform them unless (1) the officers had a warrant, or (2) an exception to the warrant requirement applied. Here, the Officer neither possessed or obtained a warrant for a blood test. Nor did the Officer even attempt to get a warrant.

Even more concerning, Prosecutors now have free reign to spin a citizen’s refusal of FSTs as “consciousness of guilt.” That’s unfair. Indeed, there’s a lot of debate in criminal law on whether FSTs accurately and/or scientifically indicate whether someone is DUI. These tests are, quite simply, balancing and memory tests administered under extremely uncomfortable and stressful conditions. These tests – which more of less reflect bad balance, lack of memory and preexisting health issues – simply do not accurately depict intoxication.

AAA Questions Marijuana DUI Laws

According to a news article from the Chicago Tribune, recent studies conducted by car insurer AAA find that blood tests given to drivers suspected of marijuana DUI have no scientific basis.

A handful of studies released by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that drivers can have a low level of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, in their blood and be unsafe behind the wheel, while others with relatively high levels may not be a hazard. Below are the individual studies accompanied by capsule summaries comprising the effort:

“If you’ve had marijuana whether it’s medicinal or otherwise, don’t drive,” said AAA Chicago spokeswoman Beth Mosher, “It’s really that simple.”

The studies examined the results of more than 5,300 people nationwide who were arrested for driving under the influence of marijuana, 600 of whom tested positive for THC only, while the others had THC and other substances. This is because marijuana isn’t metabolized by the body in the same way as alcohol. The researchers compared the Drug Recognition Expert (DRE) exam results of 602 drivers that only had THC present in their blood at the time of arrest to those of 349 volunteers that took the test drug-free and sober. Ultimately, the degree to which a driver is impaired by marijuana use depends a lot on the individual, the foundation said.

The data appears confusing because AAA also looked at Washington – one of the first states to legalize marijuana – and found fatal crashes involving drivers who recently used marijuana doubled.

“ In most recent data 1 in 6 drivers who are involved in a fatal crash there had marijuana in there system,” Mosher  said.  “And as more and more states look at legalizing marijuana we see this as a concerning trend.”

Nevertheless, AAA is sending the message that the legal limits established for marijuana are arbitrary. A handful of states have moved to specify the maximum amount of active THC — the main chemical in marijuana — that drivers can have in their system. But AAA says that doesn’t work.

“We think those are meaningless,” said Mosher. “They are not backed by any science. One person can have one limit of THC in their blood and be significantly impaired and others can have that same limit and not be impaired at all,” Mosher said.

Many in law enforcement and AAA say that officer recognition of impaired drivers is really the only what to determine whether someone is too high to drive.  Of course all of this a public safety concerns as pot becomes legal across the country.

The Neurology of Risky Driving Behavior

A very interesting article from the Association for Psychological Science discusses how a team of Canadian psychological scientists is looking at the personality, cognitive, and neurobiological factors that contribute to reckless driving behavior. By better understanding the patterns of emotional processing and risk perception shown by repeat offenders, the researchers hope to design interventions that more effectively target these subgroups of dangerous drivers.

The evidence certainly exists. According to the article, drunk driving accounts for 35-40% of all driver fatalities in Canada and the United States, and drunk driving crashes kill more than 10,000 Americans every year. Amazingly, an estimated 30% of DUI offenders will continue to drink and drive, even after being arrested and punished.

“Surprisingly, these drivers usually don’t consider themselves as risk takers,” lead author Thomas G. Brown of McGill University said. “If drivers don’t believe they are risky, they will not accept the need to change. On the other hand, if we and they don’t understand their behavior, how can they be expected to change it effectively?”

The study began when Brown and his colleagues recruited four groups of male drivers who had different criminal histories: 36 men with at least two convictions for drunk driving (DUI group); 28 reckless drivers with at least three speeding violations in the past two years (speeders); 27 men with arrests for both DUI and speeding (DWI-speeders); and 47 low-risk drivers with no history of serious traffic offenses (control group).

According to the article, participants completed a battery of personality and impulsivity assessments, ranging from a Big Five personality measure to an executive control task that assessed their sensitivity to punishment and reward. Participants’ cortisol response, a hormonal reaction to stress, was measured by collecting saliva samples before and after they completed a timed mental arithmetic task previously shown to elicit stress.

Even more interesting, participants also completed a session of simulated driving that included driving on virtual highways, merging lanes, turning at intersections, and avoiding pedestrians.

The researchers found that different subgroups of risky drivers had distinctive neurobiological profiles. Compared to the low-risk control group, speeders were prone to making decisions based on thrill-seeking and a need for high levels of stimulation. Repeat DUI offenders, in contrast, had the lowest level of risk-taking behavior while sober.

“One possibility in line with the present results is that once heavy drinking has occurred, more impulsive drivers are more vulnerable to alcohol’s disruptive effects on the behavioral control mechanisms required to avoid DWI,” the researchers explain.

All of the dangerous driving groups exhibited significant blunting in their cortisol stress response compared with the control group. Cortisol, along with other stress hormones, influences cognitive processes that range from risk assessment to encoding emotional memories. These results suggest that dysregulation of the body’s cortisol response could act as a neurobiological marker for risky driving behavior.

“Relative to the other [risky driving] profiles considered here, the profile exhibited by group DUI may be the most amenable to interventions that aim to augment recall of the negative consequences of DUI behavior and pre-emptively decouple alcohol use from driving,” the researchers conclude.

Stated differently, interventions designed to improve drivers’ recall of the negative consequences of drinking and driving are effective for preventing drunk driving. This explains the findings why repeat DUI offenders had the lowest level of risk-taking behavior while sober.

My opinion? The study is interesting, for sure. Not surprisingly, the criminal justice system uses many of these these psychological deterrents to “decouple alcohol use from driving.” When it comes to DUI cases, gaining a worthwhile reduction of the charges often means the defendant obtaining an alcohol/drug evaluation, attending mandatory treatment, attending AA meetings and attending a Victim Impact Panel. Additionally, the financial costs of DUI fines and mandatory ignition interlock devices are constant reminders to DUI offenders that future risky behavior is simply not worth it.

That said, hiring a competent DUI attorney to fight DUI charges might be a worthy endeavor. The basic legal issues surrounding a DUI arrest are (1) whether the stop was lawful, (2) whether there was enough evidence to arrest, (3) whether the officer informed the defendant of Implied Consent Warnings, and (4) whether the defendant either (a) refused the BAC breathalyzer machine or (b) blew over .08 and/or had .05 nanograms of active THC in their blood when pulled over.

If you’re charged with DUI, the best advice is to immediately contact a competent DUI defense attorney to discuss your case. Good luck!