Many people associate DWI and DUI charges with alcohol. In North Carolina, drivers can face a DWI charge for driving while intoxicated by marijuana. You could face a serious criminal charge if you’ve been pulled over and charged with a DWI after smoking weed or consuming edibles. Under North Carolina law, any type of impairing substance can lead to a DWI charge, whether street drugs, alcohol, or prescription drugs.
Attorney Joel Hancock has extensive experience defending clients facing marijuana DWI charges. In addition to his excellent credentials, he has many defense tactics he is ready to use to provide you with a robust legal defense. If you’re facing a DWI, working with an aggressive defense attorney can help you protect your legal rights, future, and freedom. Contact Hancock Law Firm, PLLC to schedule a free case evaluation and learn more.
Understanding North Carolina’s Marijuana DWI Law
North Carolina’s prohibition against driving under the influence is broader than many drivers realize. Specifically, the statute prohibits drivers from driving a vehicle on a highway street or public vehicular area in North Carolina “while under the influence of an impairing substance.” Marijuana is considered an impairing substance, but testing a suspect’s level of impairment is more challenging than testing a driver’s blood alcohol compensation.
According to Under G.S. 20-138.1, there are three ways a driver can be found guilty of a DWI:
- Driving while under the influence of an impairing substance
- Driving with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08 percent or higher
- Driving with any amount of a Schedule 1 controlled substance or its metabolites in the blood or urine
Marijuana is not a Schedule I controlled substance but is considered a Schedule IV controlled substance. As a result, prosecutors must prove marijuana intoxication by showing that the defendant was under the influence of an impairing substance. For those charged with a marijuana DWI, an important question becomes how much marijuana needs to be in a person’s system for him or her to be considered under the influence of marijuana.
Testing for a Marijuana DWI
Proving impairment from marijuana is difficult because blood and urine tests used to determine the concentration of other drugs don’t indicate impairment from marijuana. Marijuana has more than one intoxicant. Additionally, the main psychoactive constituent of marijuana, THC, is metabolized differently than alcohol. THC can remain in a person’s body days after they smoked or ingested marijuana. Blood tests aren’t a good indicator of impairment because the amount of THC in a person’s system doesn’t always accurately reflect their level of impairment. Frequent marijuana users may have high TCH levels in their blood 12 hours after using marijuana when the effects have already worn off.
Urine tests can be used to detect the presence of THC metabolite, but only for past marijuana use. The metabolite can take as long as 4 hours after a person uses marijuana to appear in a urine test, while impairment generally only lasts two hours after using marijuana. For some frequent marijuana users, the metabolite can appear weeks later. Marijuana DWIs can be challenging to prove.
Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (SFST)
Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (SFST) are among the most common methods for gauging a driver’s impairment due to marijuana. The Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN) test is one of the most frequently used SFST tests when an officer suspects a driver is under the influence of marijuana.
The next DWI training tier is Advanced Roadside Impairment Driving Enforcement (ARIDE). Many North Carolina State Troopers have been trained, according to ARIDE. The ARIDE testing process includes sobriety tests that aren’t found in the regular SFST training.
Officers use specific tests for different types of controlled substances. Despite the difficulty with proving a driver is impaired by marijuana, instances of marijuana DWI charges have increased recently. Many officers rely on the following types of evidence to attempt to justify charging a suspect with a marijuana-related DWI:
- Possession of marijuana
- Possession of marijuana-related paraphernalia
- Your vehicle and/or clothes smell like marijuana
- You’ve admitted to using marijuana within the last two hours
Defenses Against DWI Charges
Prosecutors must prove that you were driving while under the influence of marijuana to convict you of a DWI. Attorney Joel Hancock understands the difficulties of proving marijuana impairment from the lack of accurate scientific testing. He knows how to cast doubt that you were impaired when you were arrested.
After investigating your case, he can challenge the circumstantial evidence the prosecution will use to prove that you were under the influence of marijuana. He knows how to use the challenges of proving marijuana impairment to your benefit as part of a strong legal defense.
The Penalties for a Marijuana DWI in North Carolina
Marijuana DWI charges are considered misdemeanors in North Carolina. Whether you have prior convictions and the unique circumstances of your arrest will determine whether you’ll face harsher or more lenient charges. Misdemeanor DWIs are broken into levels according to state statutes.
There are aggravating and grossly aggravating factors that can result in more serious penalties, such as having a child in the car, causing another person’s injury or death, and prior offenses. If you’re a first-time offender, the lowest DWI penalty level is a Level 5 DWI with a jail sentence of at least 24 hours and a fine of up to $200.
Refusal to submit to a blood test can result in an administrative penalty that could result in a 12-month driver’s license suspension. You could be subjected to a felony DWI charge if you have prior drug or alcohol convictions. Felony charges carry lengthier jail sentences, and you could lose your driving privileges for life.
Charged with a Marijuana DWI in North Carolina? Contact a Skilled Defense Attorney
Have you been charged with a marijuana DWI charge in North Carolina? Attorney Joel Hancock is prepared to fight for your legal defense. He will always be on your side, presuming you are innocent and protecting your constitutional rights. After thoroughly investigating the charges against you, he will develop an effective legal defense strategy and negotiate for the best outcome possible. Contact Hancock Law Firm, PLLC to learn more about how we can fight for your rights.