Montana Defendant Challenges State's Marijuana DUI Standard as Arbitrary

A new case in Montana has challenged the state's standard for impairment by THC as "arbitrary," according to a court hearing from early June. Montana public defender Gregory Paskell advanced this argument while representing a client charged in a Yellowstone County District Court vehicular homicide case who was, according to the state's current law, under the influence of marijuana. According to the Governors Highway Safety Association, Montana is one of 18 states that has a defined statutory threshold for impairment due to the presence of THC (a marijuana metabolite and the main psychoactive component of the drug) in the bloodstream. In this case, the defendant's blood contained 19 ng/mL at the time of the accident. Montana's threshold for impairment is 5 ng/mL. The public defender has challenged the standard as a violation of substantive due process because of perceived scientific uncertainty regarding the relationship between THC in the bloodstream and actual impairment. The trial is scheduled to occur in late August. For more coverage of the case, see this article from the Billings Gazette.

Washington State Enacts Tougher Distracted Driving Law

Washington's new distracted driving law will take effect on July 23, 2017. Governor Jay Inslee signed SB 5289 on May 16, 2017, but vetoed the provision of the bill that would have made it effective starting in January 2019. The law makes texting and driving a primary offense and substantially raises the fine for distracted driving. The law also makes actions such as applying makeup, drinking, and eating while driving secondary offenses, meaning they can be cited in conjunction with another traffic offense. Limited hands-free use of technological devices is still permitted, but virtually all hands-on use of phones is prohibited, even while stopped at traffic signals. For more information about the law, you can read the text of the enacted bill here, and you can read a Seattle Times article about the bill here. The legislature of neighboring state Oregon has also passed a tougher distracted driving law, and the measure is currently on Governor Kate Brown's desk, awaiting further action.

Missouri Defunds Sobriety Checkpoints In Favor of Saturation Patrols

The Missouri General Assembly has mandated that $19 million in federal funding previously earmarked for DUI checkpoints be diverted to pay for saturation patrols instead. Missouri HB4 was passed by the legislature in May, approved by Missouri Governor Eric Greitens in June, and became effective July 1. The bill's sponsor, Representative Scott Fitzpatrick, said in an interview with Kansas City TV station Fox 4 that he believed that "the state funds that go toward getting drunk drivers off the road are going to be better spent with saturation patrols [as opposed to checkpoints]." Law enforcement officers and advocacy groups such as MADD say that the move discounts the deterrent effect of sobriety checkpoints and takes away a valuable tool in the fight against impaired driving. You can read the final text of the bill here, and you can read an article from the Kansas City Star about the bill here.

American Beverage Institute Continues Attacking Utah's New DUI Threshold Law

The American Beverage Institute has continued its attack on Utah's new DUI threshold law. The law, as first discussed in the April newsletter (see Washington Post article; Salt Lake Tribune article) will be the nation's toughest DUI standard when it takes effect at the end of 2018, lowering the BAC threshold to be convicted of a DUI offense from 0.08 to 0.05, matching many European countries. As discussed in last month's newsletter (see Los Angeles Times article), the American Beverage Institute has launched several full-page ad campaigns in Utah and surrounding states, aimed at targeting Utah's appeal to tourists. The ABI recently released a new full-page advertisement suggesting that Utah's senior citizens, including many of the state's leading politicians and supporters of the new DUI standard, are more dangerous on the roadways than drivers with a BAC of 0.05. The ad subsequently asks Utahns to contact their legislators and ask them to repeal the "misguided" new law. In an interview, a spokesperson for the ABI stated that they used data from NHTSA to make the claims in their advertisement. You can view the ad here. For more coverage of this specific ad and the campaign in general, see this article from the Salt Lake Tribune.

Texas "Second Chance" Bill Becomes Law

Texas governor Greg Abbott signed HB 3016 on June 15, 2017. The bill (previously discussed in the May newsletter) will allow first-time DWI offenders with a .08-.14 BAC who install an ignition interlock for six months after their conviction to file for a non-disclosure once that six month period has passed without relapse. You can read more about the bill and its passage here, and you can read the text of the bill here.

NHTSA Traffic Safety Facts 2015 Report

NHTSA recently released its comprehensive Traffic Safety Facts report for the year 2015, which analyzes Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) data and identifies trends about traffic crashes in the report year. Among its findings are that twenty-nine percent of all fatal crashes in 2015 involved alcohol-impaired driving and that fifty-eight percent of all fatal crashes that took place between midnight and 3 A.M. involved alcohol impaired driving. You can read or download the entire report here.

NCSC Traffic Resources

If you have not seen the redesign of the Traffic Resource Center for Judges yet, we invite you to take a few minutes to browse the website here. We also still have physical copies of our recently released issue brief compendium, which may be acquired by emailing Greg Hurley at

Upcoming Courses at the National Judicial College

The following courses are offered by the National Judicial College in Reno, Nevada, in the coming months. A limited number of scholarships are available through generous funding from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Please contact Katheryn Yetter at or (775) 327-8269 for more information.

Behind the Wheel: Today’s Traffic Offender (October 23-26; Reno, NV) The arena of traffic-related offenses is constantly evolving. Statistically, driving while under the influence of drugs as well as alcohol will be an issue that will appear with more frequency in traffic courts around the country. This course will delve into several issues that judges who hear traffic cases will experience this year, as well as offer insight into case issues and strategies from the prospective of the prosecutor, the defense attorney, the law enforcement officer, and the treatment provider. The course will also offer in- depth insight on how roadside drug detection is done as well as how the 12-step DRE protocol is conducted. Additionally, the course will offer a demonstration on the various types of drug and alcohol detection equipment that is available and the reliability of the instruments.

Properly and Effectively Adjudicating Drugged Drivers (October 30 - December 8; online; free) Unlike alcohol-impaired driving, drugged driving has fewer tools in the field to detect impairment and concentration levels in the body. Drugged driving cases require a judge to utilize a variety of judicial tools to effectively adjudicate these cases. In addition to the ability to determine which kinds of drugs an individual may be using, it is important to know how these drugs affect the individual and their ability to operate a vehicle. It is also imperative that a judge knows how to effectively craft sentences, which include treatment options, in order to provide a participant with the most beneficial mode of recovery.

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