Driving While Impaired – Can the State prove impairment with the presence of cocaine in the blood stream? The presence of cocaine metabolites in the blood stream indicates only the mere presence of cocaine in the body at some point in the recent past. Metabolites of cocaine may linger in the blood stream for as long as two weeks depending on the amount and frequency of use. Furthermore, cocaine may not necessarily be an impairing substance. It may enhance mental and physical faculties.
In a recent DWI case of mine here in Wake County the State alleged that defendant was driving while impaired as a result of ingesting cocaine. The lab report confirmed the presence of ecgonine methyl ester and benzoylecgonine, both metabolites of cocaine. Metabolites are substances formed in or necessary for metabolism. The lab report indicated no alcohol was present. The lab report did not attempt to quantify the amount of cocaine metabolites in the blood sample.
On cross-examination the State’s toxicologist admitted that he could not say if cocaine causes impairment. He indicated that cocaine may enhance physical ability and it may be able to counteract the impairing effects of another drug. Cocaine like amphetamines is a stimulant and it is known to have the potential to enhance mental and physical performance and to relieve the effects of fatigue.
The DWI statute NCGS 20-138.1 states that:
A person commits the offense of impaired driving if he drives any vehicle…… with any amount of a Schedule I controlled substance, as listed in GS 90-89, or its metabolites in his blood or urine.
On cross-examination the toxicologist confirmed that cocaine was a Schedule 2 controlled substance in the North Carolina statutory scheme, not a Schedule 1. Marijuana, not present in this case, is a Schedule I controlled substance.
Here the State cannot prove when the cocaine was ingested. The State cannot prove how much cocaine remained in the blood system at the time of the driving and further cannot prove whether cocaine is an impairing substance at all. Also in this case the State cannot rely on the DWI statute’s inclusion of the Schedule 1 provision that makes it arguably easier for the State to prove impairment with Schedule 1 substances.
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Obviously, we are providing the above article as a real example of the facts in a DWI case and how we would critique the State’s presentation of evidence in this situation.
We are absolutely not promoting or suggesting that anyone drink and drive or use illegal drugs for any reason. We have outlined the state of the law at the time this article was written in June of 2015.
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