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Judge John E. Turner (Ret.)

Washington lawmakers consider intoxicated driving bills

Lawmakers in Washington are considering bills that would toughen the state's drunk driving laws and make it easier for law enforcement to draw blood from motorists suspected of being under the influence of drugs. While drunk driving is on the decline in Washington, police say that the number of state residents getting behind the wheel after smoking or otherwise consuming marijuana is on the rise. Law enforcement has also reported an increase in DUIs involving drivers who have taken a combination of drugs.

In February, the state Senate unanimously approved a bill that would make the fourth drunk driving violation in 10 years a felony. Felony charges are currently filed in the state after the fifth DUI in 10 years. Similar legislation has been introduced unsuccessfully in the past, but proponents of the bill believe that support for tougher drunk driving laws has grown in recent years. Reports suggest that the House Public Safety Committee will approve the measure.

Another bill passed by the Senate would allow police departments to appoint forensic phlebotomists. These individuals would be trained to draw the blood from motorists thought to be under the influence of drugs. Police say that transporting suspects to medical facilities to have this done wastes valuable time, but defense attorneys have raised concerns about the training and oversight aspects of the bill.

Blood tests are problematic in DUI cases where marijuana use is suspected because traces of THC can remain in the body long after its intoxicating effects have dissipated. The metabolite also impairs casual marijuana users far more than it does those more familiar with the drug. Defense attorneys may seek to have marijuana-related DUI charges reduced or dropped when the tests are not substantiated by other evidence.

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