Arizona Appellate Court Weighs in on Recent DUI Case Involving the Presence of Cocaine Metabolite in the Defendant’s Blood

It’s no surprise that driving while under the intoxicating effects of drugs is illegal. A question often comes up, however: for how long after using a drug will a motorist be considered to be “under the influence”?

Once someone ingests a drug like cocaine or marijuana, the intoxicating effects wear off after a short time. However, that drug then is broken down by the body in a series of chemical processes. The active ingredient in a drug remains in a person’s system for a certain amount of time, depending on the drug.

When the body breaks down the active ingredient in a drug, there are byproducts called metabolites that are left behind. These metabolites, which register on a blood test, can remain in someone’s system for days or even weeks, depending on the drug and the frequency of use. The common consensus among experts is that most inactive metabolites do not cause intoxication; however, courts are only recently beginning to realize this. A recent case illustrates how one defendant’s conviction was reversed based on inaccurate and misleading jury instructions describing the effects of an inactive metabolite of cocaine.

The Facts of the Case

The defendant was stopped by police, who suspected the plaintiff was under the influence of drugs or alcohol. The police administered a blood test, which showed that there was no alcohol in the defendant’s system, but that there were two inactive metabolites; one for marijuana and one for cocaine.

The State charged the defendant with driving under the influence. Specifically, the sub-section prohibiting driving while under the influence of “any drug … or its metabolite.” The defendant filed a motion to dismiss, claiming that the cocaine metabolite in the blood, BE, was non-intoxicating. The prosecution agreed that BE did not cause intoxication, but argued that the statute created “strict liability” for anyone who had the metabolite in their system. The defendant’s motion was denied, and the case proceeded to trial.

After the parties presented their evidence, the court instructed the jury, over the defendant’s objection, that they should find the defendant guilty if they believed he was in actual control of the vehicle and that there was the BE metabolite in his blood. The defendant renewed his motion for dismissal, but the judge again denied it. The defendant was convicted and appealed to a higher court.

On appeal, the defendant successfully argued that the court’s instructions to the jury were improper and that the error caused him prejudice. The court explained that previous case law in Arizona has held the term “metabolite,” as used in the DUI statute” refers to intoxicating metabolites only. Thus, the court was mistaken to instruct the jury that the defendant could be found guilty based on the presence of a non-intoxicating metabolite.

Have You Been Arrested for an Arizona DUI?

If you have recently been charged with an Arizona DUI, Attorney James E. Novak can help. At the Law Office of James E. Novak, we have been representing those facing serious Arizona DUI cases for over 17 years. We are proud of our work, and understand the importance of standing up for our clients’ rights are every opportunity. To learn more, call 480-413-1499 to schedule a free consultation today.

Additional Resources:

Other Articles of Interest from The Law Office of James Novak’s Phoenix DUI Blog:

DUI And No Insurance: What You Should Know, Phoenix DUI Law Blog, May 1, 2018

Marijuana DUI: Financial Penalties in Arizona, Phoenix DUI Law Blog, April 1, 2018

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