Driving High: Understanding the Consequences of Marijuana DUI in Illinois

Law Offices of David L. Freidberg, P.C.

In Illinois, the legalization of marijuana for both medical and recreational use has brought about significant changes in the legal landscape, particularly in the area of driving under the influence (DUI). While the use of marijuana is now legal for adults over the age of 21, driving under its influence is not. The consequences of being charged with a marijuana DUI are severe and can have lasting impacts on an individual’s life. Let’s now explore the legal definitions, the process of arrest, chemical testing, potential penalties, and the overall criminal case process for a marijuana DUI in Illinois.

Under Illinois law, specifically the Illinois Vehicle Code at 625 ILCS 5/11-501, it is illegal to operate a motor vehicle while impaired by any drug, including marijuana. The statute makes it clear that a driver with a tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) concentration of 5 nanograms or more per milliliter of whole blood or 10 nanograms or more per milliliter of other bodily substance is considered impaired. This legal standard creates a framework similar to the blood alcohol content (BAC) used to govern alcohol-related DUI offenses.

Defining Impairment from Marijuana

Unlike alcohol, where impairment can generally be correlated with BAC levels, determining impairment from marijuana can be more complex. THC, the psychoactive component in marijuana, metabolizes differently than alcohol, which means that its presence in the bloodstream does not always directly correlate with a person’s level of impairment. However, for legal purposes, the thresholds set by Illinois law provide a clear line that, when crossed, results in a DUI charge.

The Arrest Process for Marijuana DUI

The process typically begins when a law enforcement officer suspects a driver is under the influence of marijuana. Signs such as slow driving, failing to obey traffic signals, or erratic driving behavior can all trigger a traffic stop. Once stopped, if the officer observes additional signs of impairment, such as the smell of marijuana, red or glassy eyes, or impaired motor skills, they may escalate the encounter to a DUI investigation.

Field Sobriety and Chemical Testing

Field sobriety tests, which may include tasks such as walking in a straight line or standing on one leg, are commonly used to assess impairment. However, these tests can be subjective and are not marijuana-specific. Chemical testing, usually through blood or urine samples, is more definitive and is used to determine the level of THC in the system. Under Illinois law, drivers have implied consent to submit to such testing; refusal to do so can result in automatic suspension of driving privileges.

Penalties for Marijuana DUI in Illinois

Being found guilty of driving under the influence of marijuana carries substantial penalties. For a first offense, individuals may face:

  • Class A misdemeanor charges.
  • Possible imprisonment for up to one year.
  • Fines up to $2,500.
  • Suspension of driving privileges for up to a year.

Subsequent offenses carry more severe penalties, including longer jail terms, higher fines, and the possibility of vehicle confiscation or the installation of an ignition interlock device. Additionally, a marijuana DUI can lead to significant personal consequences, including difficulties in finding employment, increased insurance rates, and social stigma.

The DUI Criminal Case Process

Once arrested, the accused will undergo the criminal justice process, which begins with arraignment where charges are formally presented. This is followed by pre-trial motions, potential plea bargaining, and possibly a trial. Throughout this process, the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the driver was impaired by marijuana to the extent that they could not drive safely.

Given the complexities involved in proving impairment by marijuana, legal representation is crucial. A skilled defense attorney can challenge the results of chemical tests, the conduct of law enforcement officers, or the interpretation of impairment signs. Effective legal strategies may result in reduced charges or even a dismissal depending on the circumstances.

Frequently Asked Questions About Marijuana DUI in Illinois

Question: What exactly constitutes a marijuana DUI in Illinois?
A marijuana DUI is charged when a person operates a motor vehicle with a THC concentration of 5 nanograms or more per milliliter of blood or 10 nanograms or more per milliliter of other bodily substances, like saliva. However, you can also be charged based on observed impairment by an officer, even if your THC levels are below these thresholds.

Question: How do law enforcement officers test for marijuana impairment?
Unlike alcohol testing which often uses a breathalyzer, marijuana impairment testing primarily relies on blood and urine tests to detect THC levels. Additionally, field sobriety tests—which may include tasks like walking in a straight line or standing on one leg—are used to assess a driver’s physical and mental coordination.

Question: Can I refuse to take a chemical test if I’m stopped for a suspected marijuana DUI?
Yes, you can refuse to take a chemical test; however, under Illinois’ implied consent law, refusal leads to automatic suspension of your driver’s license. The suspension is one year for a first offense and three years for subsequent offenses. This is separate from any DUI charges you might face if later found guilty.

Question: What are the possible defenses against a marijuana DUI charge?
Defenses against a marijuana DUI charge can vary significantly based on the specifics of your case but may include:

  • Challenging the legality of the traffic stop: If the initial stop was not legally justified, any evidence gathered thereafter can be suppressed.
  • Disputing the accuracy or handling of blood and urine tests: This could involve questioning the calibration of testing equipment or the chain of custody of your samples.
  • Questioning the interpretation of field sobriety tests: These tests are subjective and not specifically designed for detecting marijuana impairment, making them potentially unreliable.
  • Medical necessity defense: For those with medical marijuana prescriptions, although difficult, arguing medical necessity might mitigate the circumstances under certain conditions.

Question: How long does THC stay detectable in your system?
THC can remain in your bloodstream for hours to days, but detectability varies greatly depending on factors such as the frequency of use and individual metabolism. Regular users may have detectable levels of THC even if they have not used marijuana immediately before driving.

Question: What should I do if I am arrested for a marijuana DUI in Illinois?
If arrested, it’s important to exercise your right to remain silent and request an attorney immediately. Anything you say to law enforcement can be used against you in court. Contacting an experienced DUI attorney as soon as possible can help protect your rights and begin the process of building your defense.

Question: Can a marijuana DUI affect my employment?
Yes, a marijuana DUI can have significant repercussions on your employment, especially if your job requires driving. A DUI conviction may lead to job loss or suspension, particularly in roles that mandate a clean driving record. Additionally, the stigma of a DUI can impact professional relationships and future job prospects.

Question: Are there alternative penalties or rehabilitation options for marijuana DUI offenders in Illinois?
Illinois courts may sometimes offer alternative sentencing or rehabilitation programs, especially for first-time offenders or those with minimal levels of THC. These might include drug education classes, community service, or probation. An experienced attorney can negotiate these alternatives on your behalf, potentially avoiding jail time.

Call David Freidberg For Your Free Consultation

If you or someone you know is facing a marijuana DUI charge in Illinois, it is essential to seek experienced legal help. The Law Offices of David L. Freidberg are equipped to provide robust defense in these complex cases. With a deep understanding of Illinois DUI laws and a commitment to defending your rights, we ensure that every legal avenue is explored. For a free consultation 24/7, contact us at (312) 560-7100 or toll-free at (800) 803-1442. We serve clients across Chicago, Cook County, DuPage County, Will County, and Lake County, offering expert guidance and support through this challenging time.

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