In previous blog posts I discussed driving under the influence of marijuana (cannabis) and the difficulties provingthat a driver was under the influence at the time he or she was driving. The active ingredient in cannabis, THC, stays in a person’s system long after the effect wears offmaking it difficult to prove that a driver was under the influence at the time of driving. And, unlike alcohol, a driver under the influence of marijuana does not always display the obvious symptoms. Despite these difficulties in proving the offense, drivers are being charged and convicted of driving under the influence of cannabis and in recent years, there have been increasing numbers of vehicular manslaughter while under the influence of marijuana convictions (Penal Code 191.5(a).)
Recently a 24-year-old man was charged in Kern County jury of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence after swerving his car and hitting a teacher who was seven months pregnant, killing both the woman and her unborn child. (The manslaughter charge only attached to the woman due to a “loophole” in California law which may prosecute the murder of a fetus but does not define a fetus as a victim under the manslaughter laws.) The prosecutor alleged that the driver was under the influence of marijuana at the time of the crash. Under California law, if a driver kills another person while driving under the influence, he or she may be charged with grossly negligent manslaughter. The jury found the young man guilty but convicted him on a lesser charge of negligent vehicular manslaughter rather than with gross negligence.
In San Diego County, a 27-year-old man made a U-turn on the freeway going the wrong way and crashed head on into a motorcyclist, also 27 years old. The crash killed the motorcyclist. It was alleged that the driver was high on marijuana at the time of the crash. The driver was never given a field sobriety tests but laboratory tests were conducted on the driver at the hospital which showed “a higher level of marijuana than they normally see,” according the district attorney prosecuting the case. The driver was convicted by a jury of gross vehicular manslaughter and sentenced by the court to six years in prison. While the driver’s behavior (making a U-turn on a freeway going the wrong way for three miles) certainly suggests he was under the influence of something, apparently the only substance present in his system was the THC. It is hard to imagine that cannabis would cause such dangerous driving.After trial, the prosecutor stated that the toxicologist could not definitively say that the driver’s conduct was attributable to the influence of marijuana.