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Marijuana breath tests for Connecticut drivers on the horizon

Connecticut's laws dealing with driver intoxication cover impairment by alcohol or drugs. Law enforcers conduct breath tests to support alcohol-related DUI allegations, but no breath tests currently exist to measure drug use by drivers. Technology is in development that could soon arm Windham police with marijuana testing devices.

At present, correctly conducted blood tests provide the only evidential measure of drug use by drivers. Laboratory test results often aren't available for weeks or months. Delays in obtaining evidence extend the legal process and add to defendants' stress.

A proposed marijuana breath test, under development by university researchers, would detect the presence of tetrahydrocannabinol or THC in a driver's breath. THC is the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. Blood testing must be used as a follow-up, since the device cannot determine the exact amount of THC in a person's system.

The technology in the cannabis breath test is not entirely unique. The ion mobility spectrometry in the device is an offshoot of technology used by customs agents and airport luggage inspectors. At last report, the pot-tester prototype was entering a human testing stage.

As criminal defense attorneys know, alcohol breath tests and the police officers who administer them are not fool proof. The same is likely to be true for any marijuana breath testing device. Defective products and human errors can produce a negative legal outcome for defendants when devices, results and test administrators' methods are not checked or challenged.

The new test might help a defendant ward off a false DUI charge, as long as marijuana is the driver's suspected drug of choice. The device is limited by the ability to detect a single drug. Consider whether police might try to shift blame to include the use of another drug to make a drug impairment case stick.

Reliable evidence can be a benefit to prosecutors or defendants. A criminal defense lawyer can explain the advantages for defendants.

Source: PC Magazine, "Researchers Developing Pot-Detecting Breathalyzer" Stephanie Mlot, accessed Mar. 05, 2015

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