Sunday, September 7, 2003

New law gets tough on 'drugged driving'

The Associated Press

AKRON, Ohio - Summit County has passed a pioneering law designed to make it easier to convict people for driving while drugged.

The law, which took effect Aug. 26, is part of an emerging effort to raise awareness of "drugged driving" and to make drugged drivers as accountable as those who drive while drunk.

The Summit County law establishes a limit for the amount of cocaine permitted in a motorist's blood.

Summit County Councilman Paul Gallagher, the sponsor of the law, said the level needed for a conviction is the lowest level of cocaine that can be detected accurately.

If that level is exceeded, a driver can be charged with DUI and receive the same penalties as a drunken driver.

Gallagher, an assistant prosecutor in neighboring Portage County, said police throughout Ohio already can ask for a drug test if there is probable cause to believe a driver is impaired. But outside of Summit County, there are no blood-level limits as there are for alcohol.

Gallagher said he wants to eventually expand his law to include marijuana.

Don Malarcik, an Akron criminal defense lawyer, said drugged-driving laws invite courtroom challenges.

"There is no way to determine when someone ingested marijuana, based on a blood or urine test," Malarcik said.

"What amount of marijuana in your system determines you are impaired? How much cocaine impairs your driving ability? I don't think there is any reliable scientific evidence that answers that question."

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