A court in Massachusetts has ruled that police can make arrests for drugged driving based on their personal observations. The state Supreme Judicial Court made the ruling on Monday in the case of Mark J. Davis, who was pulled over on the Massachusetts Turnpike and arrested by Massachusetts State Police in July 2015.
Troopers said that Davis had been driving at 80 mph and tailgating other motorists, according to the ruling. Davis, who was driving, and two passengers were in the vehicle. The car had a “strong odor of burnt marijuana and an odor of fresh marijuana,” according to media reports. The trooper said that Davis smelled like pot, too. Davis also had “red and glassy” eyes, which he had trouble focusing and struggled to keep open. The trooper also noted that Davis had difficulty following “simple directions.” He had also apparently admitted to recent cannabis use.
“The defendant told the officer that he had smoked marijuana earlier that day, before he left to drive to Somerville,” the ruling states.
Police then searched the car and found oxycodone, cocaine, and a firearm. Davis was arrested and later tried on drug possession, drugged driving, and gun possession charges. He was convicted of drug possession by a jury but acquitted of the other charges.
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During the trial, his attorney admitted that Davis was responsible for the drug possession charge.
“Go ahead and find him guilty of the drugs in the glove box. Those are his,” the ruling says.
Davis appealed the conviction, arguing that the troopers did not have probable cause to arrest him for driving under the influence of marijuana and therefore the search of the car was illegal. The court upheld the conviction, ruling that the observations made by the troopers during the traffic stop gave them probable cause to arrest Davis for drugged driving. The ruling noted that there are no validated field sobriety tests for drug use and that impairment by cannabis can be difficult to gauge.
“We acknowledge that it is often difficult to detect marijuana impairment, because the effects of marijuana consumption ‘vary greatly amongst individuals,’” the court wrote.
The court also ruled that the search of the car without a warrant was legal because of statutory exceptions for searches of automobiles.
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