The battle over the saliva test in Vermont drugged driving

Vermont lawmakers continue to struggle with finding the correct balance in prosecuting motorists who may be under the influence of marijuana or other drugs while operating a motor vehicle.  Vermont law enforcement has claimed that there is a saliva test that can be implemented in order to prove that a motorist has marijuana in their system.  However, what lawmakers continue to struggle with is determining whether that detection alone, satisfies the DUI statute, which states that the presence of the drug must effect the motorist’s ability to operate their motor vehicle safely.

In an effort to address the vague nature of the current DUI-drugs statute, the Vermont legislature introduced a bill in 2014 that lowered the standard of proving a Drugged Driving charge by being able to prove that the operator was under the influence to “the slightest degree”.  However, several lawmakers in the Judiciary Committee, including Chair, Jeanette White: D-Windham County, stated that this standard cast the net too wide.

In an effort to compromise, language to the bill was introduced that would allow someone to be arrested for Drugged Driving if prosecutors could show that drug use “interferes with safe operation of a vehicle in the slightest degree.”.

If this language is in fact adopted, it still remaining unclear exactly how law enforcement will be able to detect this level of impairment beyond the flawed Drug Recognition Expert (DRE) standard that they have used to this day.  John Flannigan, a Lieutenant with the Vermont State Police, has stated that a roadside saliva test may in fact be the answer to this question.

Flannigan’s argument is that the saliva test, which is able to detect the presence of certain drugs, including marijuana, along with the DRE testimony, would be sufficient to show impairment.

However, even with this additional evidence, under the revised drugged driving bill, law enforcement would still need to show that the motorist’s impairment “slightly” effected their ability to operate a motor vehicle safely.  Although the saliva tests and DRE testimony may be sufficient to arrest an individual, much remains to be seen if these charges can actually stick when individual cases maker their way through the Vermont Judicial system.

 

 

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