Marijuana DWI Conviction Requires Actually Being Under the Influence of Marijuana

You can get a Marijuana DWI in Minnesota. But, under Minnesota law, you must actually be under the influence of marijuana. Mere presence of marijuana in your system is not enough. Recently, the Minnesota Court of Appeals addressed this topic in State v. Berger.

In Berger’s case, an officer stopped his car after it was leaving a closed park in the early morning hours. Not for swerving or any impaired driving conduct. The cop noticed Berger had bloodshot eyes and faintly smelled of alcohol and marijuana. The officer had Berger take a preliminary breath test (PBT) for evidence of alcohol consumption, which registered 0.00. The officer let Berger drive away but ended up arresting his passenger for a separate probation violation matter.

Berger then drove to the jail to pick up his passenger. The same officer from before noticed Berger at the jail and saw that his skin was flushed, and his eyes were dilated. Suspecting drug use, the officer had Berger perform field sobriety tests tailored towards possible drug DWIs. After concluding he failed the tests, the officer obtained a blood sample from Berger. The results of that test later indicated the presence of THC.

Berger was then charged with Fourth Degree DWI – Driving Under the Influence of a Controlled Substance. After a stipulated-facts trial, Berger was found guilty and appealed, in part, the sufficiency of the evidence used to convict him. The main issue was whether Berger was under the influence of marijuana while driving his car. Remember, the officer did not originally stop Berger’s vehicle leaving the closed park for any impaired driving conduct. All the officer had to go on was some indicia of impairment based on his limited field sobriety testing at the jail and the mere presence of THC in Berger’s blood sample.

Unlike alcohol, there is no legal limit for the amount of marijuana (THC) in someone’s blood. But, someone can be convicted of DWI being under the influence of alcohol regardless of their actual alcohol content. These cases mainly include impaired driving conduct, such as accidents, or erratic or aggressive driving like in Teske and Richardson.

In contrast, when prosecutors rely on impairment factors observed after any driving conduct solely for under the influence charges, then it becomes more difficult for them to secure a conviction. In Elmourabit, the driver was stopped for speeding, which is not indicia of impairment. The officers noted the driver had bloodshot and watery eyes and was difficult to understand. But, the court was not swayed that it was sufficient evidence for being under the influence.

Similarly here, the court of appeals reasoned that there was not any evidence Berger was driving erratically or violated any traffic laws. The indicia of any impairment occurred after the driving had stopped. And, in this case even after Berger’s initial release from the scene. The court of appeals also noted in significant fashion that “we are mindful to avoid placing ‘too much significance’ on field sobriety tests” because it did not believe there was evidence that it also influenced his driving conduct. Therefore, the court of appeals reversed Berger’s conviction.

Robert H. Ambrose is a criminal defense lawyer and DWI attorney in Minnesota. Super Lawyers named him a Rising Star for the past five years; and the National Trial Lawyer’s Organization named him a Top 40 Under 40 Trial Lawyer the past seven years. He is also an adjunct professor at the University of Minnesota Law School. DWI Lawyer Woodbury MN; Criminal Defense Lawyer Minnesota; and DWI Attorney MN.

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