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Is a marijuana DUI worse than a regular alcohol DUI in Utah?

A person with marijuana (THC) in his system while driving a car in Utah can potentially be charged with DUI if the person is found to be "under the influence . . . any drug, or the combined influence of alcohol and any drug to a degree that renders the person incapable of safely operating a vehicle."  (Utah Code Ann. 41-6a-502.  This is the same section of the Utah Criminal Code that deals with a regular alcohol DUI.

Under Utah criminal law, a person operating a vehicle with any measurable amount of a controlled substance (including marijuana) or a controlled substance metabolite in his system can also be charged under Utah Code Ann. 41-6a-517 with the crime of driving with a measurable controlled substance in the body.  Under this section, the prosecutor does not have to show any impairment to the driver's ability to safely operate the vehicle.

Both a first-time DUI and driving with a measurable controlled substance are typically filed as class B misdemeanors, with the same maximum potential sentence (180 days jail; $1,000 fine plus a 90% surcharge).  However, a DUI charge based on marijuana raises the additional concern of illegal drug use.

Often, a person charged with DUI for marijuana use will also face charges of possession of a controlled substance or possession of drug paraphernalia.  Even if those additional charges are not filed, the mere fact that a person has been using marijuana may be viewed by the judge or prosecutor as an indicator that the person is in need of additional substance abuse treatment or harsher sanctions from the court.

A marijuana or other drug-related DUI charge also raises possible search and seizure issues under the Fourth Amendment.  While it is relatively easy for an officer to claim he smelled the odor of alcohol coming from the driver during a traffic stop, the presence of a drug metabolite in a person's body is not so readily apparent.  Before an officer is allowed to take a blood or urine sample to test for the presence of drugs or drug metabolite, the officer must meet certain constitutional requirements relating to probable cause and reasonable articulable suspicion.

If you are facing DUI charges for alcohol, marijuana, or other drugs, you need an experienced drug and DUI defense attorney on your side.  As a Utah criminal defense lawyer based in Salt Lake City, Stephen Howard has handled literally thousands of serious criminal cases in Utah - more than most Utah attorneys will see in their entire careers.  

Contact us now to schedule an initial consultation.


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Serving Salt Lake, Davis, Weber, Utah, Cache, Tooele, Summit, Box Elder, and Wasatch Counties, and all of Utah.

Attorney Stephen Howard practices as part of the Canyons Law Group, LLC and Stephen W. Howard, PC.

Offices in Salt Lake and Davis Counties
560 South 300 East, Suite 200, Salt Lake City, UT 84111
952 S. Main St., Suite A, Layton, UT 84041

Call now to arrange for a confidential initial consultation with an experienced and effective Utah criminal defense lawyer.

In Salt Lake City, call 801-449-1409.
In Davis County, call 801-923-4345.

Stephen W. Howard, PC

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