Jefferson Simmons 2014-07-03 00:26:22
AZ Supreme Court Weighs in on Marijuana DUIs The Arizona Supreme Court applied logic and reason by declining to allow prosecutions based on politics and ideology rather than sound legal interpretation and legislative intent in State v. Shilgevorkyan. In essence, the Supreme Court stopped prosecutions of people with trace amounts of non-impairing substance that had been occurring in Arizona for years. It held that the phrase “its metabolite” excluded carboxy-THC, the non-impairing metabolite of marijuana. The case hinged on the interpretation of the statutory language, “its metabolite,” and whether that phrase should be read as singular or plural. The defense argued that it was singular while the prosecution countered by contending the phrase means the plural form and encompassed all metabolic byproducts. As the term metabolite is not defined by statute, the court referenced a medical dictionary to determine the clear meaning of the word. After going through the definition, the court conceded that there was more than one plausible mean for that phrase and determined it to be ambiguous. As such, the plain language of the definition alone would not be dispositive and further analysis as to the legislative intent was required. The court found that “Statutes should be construed sensibly to avoid reaching an absurd conclusion.” Mendelsohn v. Super. Ct. in and for Maricopa Cnty., 76 Arizona 163, 169, 261 P.2d 983, 987-88 (1953). They recognized statutory interpretation should be done to “fulfill the intent of the legislature that wrote it.” Bilke v. State, 206 Arizona. 462, 464 ¶ 11, 80 P.3d 269, 271 (2003). In Arizona, DUI statutes were enacted to prevent impaired driving and target individuals who consumed alcohol or drugs to a degree that impaired their ability to operate a motor vehicle. ARS 28-1381(A)(3) has the same statutory construction as alcohol, but specifies the presence of a drug or its metabolite in one’s body as defined in A.R.S § 13-3401. A.R.S § 28-1381. The distinction between alcohol and drugs is significant as the prosecution does not need to show any impairment under 28-1381(A)(3), nor do they even need to present any threshold level of consumption as required with most alcohol DUIs. Drug prosecutions, illegal or prescription, inherently have a number of concerning aspects as the legislative intent is to target impaired driving, not simply having a drug present in one’s blood. Having a prescription is an affirmative defense to the DUI drug charge, but not ARS 28- 1381(A)(1), which requires the state to prove impairment. The court ruled that the state’s interpretation of “its metabolite” is concerning, as it leads to absurd results and contradicts the legislative intent of the DUI statutes as enacted. During oral argument the state argued that any metabolite of a drug, even non-impairing, could be prosecuted under the DUI drug charge. They even stood by the hypothetical scenario of prosecuting an individual who may have trace elements of a non-impairing substance five years after ingestion of the drug. That mindset, which stems from many head prosecutors around the Valley who take a hard stance against medical marijuana, should be concerning to the citizens of Maricopa County. Prosecution agencies across the state were attempting to criminalize otherwise legal actions by prosecuting DUIs based offthe nonimpairing, carboxy-THC, metabolite. The Arizona Medical Marijuana Act (AMMA) was passed in 2010 and would effectively strip those individuals’ right to drive as the non-impairing metabolite, carboxy-THC, can remain in the body up to 30 days. This would subject those individuals who have state authorized medical marijuana to potential DUI charges up to 30 days after lawfully consuming marijuana, solely based on carboxy-THC being present in their blood. The court was correct that the state’s analysis on this issue leads to absurd results. A prosecutor’s job is unique in that they are supposed to be seeking justice, not merely convictions. To make an argument to a jury that a non-impairing metabolite should be the sole basis for a criminal DUI conviction subverts that oath to uphold justice and borders on issues with a prosecutor’s ethical obligations. Jefferson Simmons represents clients in many aspects of criminal law, including misdemeanor and felony cases, with a focus on driving under the influence (DUI) defense. He graduated from Westminster College where he received his Bachelor of Arts degree in political science and then attended Syracuse University College of Law where he earned his Juris Doctorate (J.D.) degree. He is licensed to practice law in Arizona, and is an active member of the Arizona Attorney for Criminal Justice (AACJ). Mr. Simmons can be reached by phone at 480- 248-7666 or by email at Jefferson@rosensteinlawgroup.com
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