MELBOURNE, Florida -- On January 12th 2012, Florida Senate Bill (SB 1810) was introduced by Senator Stephen R. Wise. The goal of this bill was to change Florida’s Driving Under the Influence (DUI) laws to a Driving While Impaired standard. The proposed legislation amends the term "under the influence to the extent that normal faculties are impaired" to "impaired to the extent that the person is deprived of his or her abilities." The legislation would have also added provisions for blood and urine testing, which would allow for the testing of drug metabolites. The effective date of the bill would have been on July 1, 2012.
James Coulter, a DUI attorney in Melbourne, Florida, weighed in on the proposed legislation, "The new proposal would broaden driving under the influence laws to such an extent that individuals may be arrested due to a suspicion by the officer that they are impaired, or by a positive chemical test result. This does not effectively prove that the driver was incapable of operating a motor vehicle. Although this bill died in transit on March 9th, considering the tendency for drug and alcohol bills to be proposed multiple times in slightly revised forms, this has the possibility of being reintroduced."
The proposed rewording of the statute to "driving while impaired" does not state a specific level of intoxication or that any drugs or alcohol are in fact necessary to charge an individual. Under the current driving under the influence statutes, a person would be charged if he or she is "under the influence" of a certain substance, whereas "while impaired" is a broader term that could be applied to a much larger grouping of drivers. For example, according to the bill's wording, a police officer could theoretically arrest anyone they suspected of using marijuana or any other drug even if they did not suspect it at the time of driving.
The proposed bill would keep Florida's .08 blood alcohol content (BAC) limit, but would add a provision that states a person is guilty of driving while impaired if their blood or urine tests positive for controlled substances, or one of its metabolites. Metabolites are the chemicals left behind by the process of absorbing drugs.
"Adding metabolites to the testing requirements raises the issue of whether or not the individual accused of driving while impaired is a danger to others," states Palm Bay drug defense lawyer James Coulter. "Considering the definition of a metabolite, there is a substantial possibility that an individual who may have ingested drugs, knowingly or unknowingly, days or even weeks before being pulled over, can still be arrested and charged with a DUI."
"This bill would be, in effect, a green light for law enforcement to drug test drivers. This will lead to a large influx of driving while impaired cases unnecessarily brought forth due to one-sided observations and unfair testing, bringing with it many unjust convictions for a crime that has the potential to ruin a person's life."
James Coulter is a founding partner of the Law Offices of Germain & Coulter. He is a distinguished Melbourne criminal defense attorney who has worked with many individuals throughout Florida who have been accused of various criminal acts, including DUI offenses. A Florida Coastal School of Law graduate, James was admitted to the Florida Bar in 2005. James Coulter is also an adjunct professor of Criminal Law at Everest University in Melbourne, Florida.