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Iowa Supreme Court Upholds Ban On Driving While High
Zero-tolerance ban on driving after smoking a joint upheld by Iowa Supreme Court.

Drugged drivingIowa courts are holding firm against any relaxation of the laws related to driving under the influence (DUI) of marijuana. A divided state Supreme Court last month refused to let slide a man's DUI conviction because it was based on a drug test that showed "nonimpairing" amounts of the controlled substance in his bloodstream.

Erik Milton Childs first drew the attention of the Floyd County sheriff's department on June 20, 2014 when someone phoned in a report that a silver Hyundai Sonata was involved in what appeared to be a drug deal in Rockford City Park. When Deputy Chad Weber investigated, he began following the Hyundai being driven by Childs out of the park. The deputy had cause to stop Childs.

"I approached the vehicle and told the driver he was being stopped for crossing the center line and expired registration," the deputy testified. "I then asked the driver if he was under the influence of drugs or alcohol. He said yes, in which I asked what substance and he said marijuana. I asked how much and he said half a joint. I asked how big the joint was and he held up his fingers showing me how big."

A drug test found 62 nanograms per milliliter of carboxy-THC, a "nonimpairing" metabolite of marijuana, in Childs' system. He was convicted under a law prohibiting driving with "any amount" of a drug in his system. Childs asked the high court to strike down that law as unconstitutional. The high court was not moved by this argument, saying the legislature made a conscious decision not to set a specific legal threshold, as is done with alcohol.

"The harshness of Iowa's flat ban is ameliorated by the fact that the motorist would be asked to submit to chemical testing only after the officer performed a lawful traffic stop and had reasonable grounds to believe the driver was impaired," Justice Thomas D. Waterman wrote for the court majority. "It is not absurd for the legislature to enact a per se, or zero-tolerance, ban on driving with this marijuana metabolite in one's body, given the absence of an available scientific test to determine what level of marijuana impairs driving."

The court said complaints about the outcome of the decision should be "directed to the legislature." Dissenting justices argued the majority's decision was made without sufficient briefing from technical experts.

"The question for the future is whether the legislature can establish a regime to control dangerous drivers that, in many applications, relies on a sweeping generality that is unsupported by science and does not utilize the traditional American way of requiring individualized guilt based on moral culpability before criminal sanctions are enforced," Justice Brent R. Appel wrote.

A copy of the decision is available in a 200k PDF file at the source link below.

Source: Iowa v. Childs (Iowa Supreme Court, 6/30/2017)

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