Friday. March 22, 2002
Appeals Court Rejects Rehearing in Idaho Marijuana Driving Case
From Staff and Wire Service Reports
The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals yesterday denied a rehearing in a ruling that that it is legal to drive under the influence of Marijuana in Idaho.
Federal prosecutors asked the appeals court to review its decision after a three-judge panel overturned Matthew Patzer’s impaired driving conviction in January because of a loophole in Idaho law.
Patzer was pulled over on Sept. 27, 1998, for driving with a broken tailgate light. At the time, 21-year-old Patzer told a New Plymouth police officer that he had smoked marijuana at a party, but the court found that he had not been driving erratically and had passed two field sobriety tests. When police searched his Chevrolet Blazer, they found a small arsenal of illegal weapons.
Current Idaho laws make it illegal to drive under the influence of alcohol and narcotics. But marijuana is not listed in the books as a narcotic, so police cannot assume that a person is impaired just because he smoked pot, the court ruled.
Because of that, the three-judge panel said, Patzer could not automatically be presumed impaired, unlike like motorists who have been drinking alcohol. Patzer was not driving erratically and passed a field sobriety test.
“The entirety of the government’s probable cause argument in response to Patzer’s appeal was that marijuana is a narcotic,” the appeals court wrote. “We resolved this argument adversely to the government, finding that Idaho law consistently defines marijuana as outside the category of narcotic drugs.”
The Idaho Legislature sent Gov. Dirk Kempthorne a bill last week closing the legal loophole. The bill states that driving a vehicle under the influence of drugs or intoxicating substances—including marijuana—is a crime. Kempthorne’s staff said the governor will sign the bill.
The trooper pulled Patzer over during the early morning hours of Sept. 26, 1998 for driving with a broken taillight. Looking into the car, he saw two rifles in the backseat but said he was unconcerned about them because “in Idaho everyone has a gun.”
But he did become concerned about Patzer’s bloodshot and glassy eyes. After repeated questioning, Patzer admitted to smoking marijuana at a party. He passed two field sobriety tests before Patterson arrested him for driving impaired.
After the arrest, the officer searched the Chevrolet Blazer and recovered a number of illegal weapons, including four homemade hand grenades, a sawed-off shotgun and a modified rifle with a homemade silencer. Patzer was convicted of being an unlawful user of a controlled substance in possession of a firearm, and on other firearms charges.
Each conviction must fall, the Ninth Circuit panel ruled, since the search that recovered the items was based on an unlawful arrest.
“Patzer’s arrest was unlawful. The evidence obtained after his arrest ... were ‘fruit of the poisonous tree’ and should have been suppressed by the district court,” the three-judge panel wrote.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Alan Burrow, in Boise, Idaho, said the government is considering bringing the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The case is United States v. Patzer, 00-30360.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company