Utah's Metabolite DUI Law Doesn't Require Impairment
It prohibits any drug byproduct in a driver's bloodstream, periodBy Judy Malmon, J.D. | Reviewed by Canaan Suitt, J.D. | Last updated on June 28, 2023 Featuring practical insights from contributing attorney Clayton Simms
Use these links to jump to different sections:
- Assessing Drug Impairment is Complicated
- Utah’s Zero-Tolerance Policy
- Utah’s Penalties for Having Metabolites in Your System While Driving
- Utah’s Implied Consent Law and Penalties for Refusing to Test
- Affirmative Defense if Drugs Were Prescribed
- Find an Experienced Criminal Defense Lawyer
More and more states are legalizing the use of marijuana, whether recreational or medically prescribed, including several on Utah’s borderlines.
With legalization has come increased concern about impairment while driving. Marijuana may be legal, but it can still compromise your ability to safely operate a motor vehicle.
Most states now have laws that treat drug impairment similarly to alcohol when it comes to a DUI, including Utah.
Assessing Drug Impairment is Complicated
Assessing impairment from cannabis can be tricky.
Blood alcohol concentration (BAC) testing has evolved into a fairly reliable method, and impairment can be tested on the spot with a simple field sobriety test. But there’s no breath test for controlled substances.
Even a blood test, which may measure the amount of a substance in your system, can’t define the impact that measurable amount is having on your body or the degree to which you are impaired.
Utah’s Zero-Tolerance Policy
Utah’s answer to this uncertainty has been to invoke a zero-tolerance law for drivers, officially entitled “Driving with a Measurable Controlled Substance,” or “Metabolite DUI.”
Metabolites are byproducts of drugs remaining in your system following ingestion. They can be present for just about anything you’ve taken, from marijuana to prescription painkillers to antihistamines.
A small amount of a controlled substance can stay in your bloodstream for days or weeks—much longer than any actual effect of the drug itself.
Utah’s Penalties for Having Metabolites in Your System While Driving
Utah’s metabolite DUI law makes it a Class B misdemeanor to have any amount of metabolite in your system while operating a motor vehicle. A DUI metabolite charge has no requirement of impaired driving—only that you were driving while you had drug metabolites present in your body.
Penalties for a first offense can include a fine of up to $1,000, license suspension for 120 days, and up to six months in jail.
Yes, it really is as harsh as it seems, says Salt Lake City criminal defense attorney Clayton Simms.
“The law makes no connection between metabolite and the ability to drive a vehicle. You can be engaged in a completely legal activity like smoking marijuana in Colorado four days ago, drive through Utah, you’re not impaired, but it’s in your blood. You can spend six months in jail, have your license suspended. This really happens. You are at risk.”
Utah’s Implied Consent Law and Penalties for Refusing to Test
If you’re thinking that not authorizing law enforcement to take your blood will get you off the hook, think again. Utah’s implied consent rule says that anyone driving on the state’s roads is required to submit to testing if an officer has reason to believe that they were driving under the influence.
Refusal to do so will result in additional penalties, including automatic revocation of your license for 18 months or longer.
Affirmative Defense if Drugs Were Prescribed
The law states that it’s an affirmative defense to Utah’s metabolite DUI that the drugs in your system were legally prescribed, involuntarily ingested, or otherwise legally ingested.
However, Simms states that he has never seen this DUI defense successfully asserted. “Metabolite is a status crime: it’s in your blood, and you were driving. That’s it. If you’re on any medication, you just can’t drive.”
This is complicated stuff. If you ever drive in Utah, the law is clear, and as Simms says, “you are at risk.”
Find an Experienced Criminal Defense Lawyer
Should the unthinkable happen and you’re facing DUI charges in Utah, contact a criminal defense attorney with experience defending DUI cases. Search the Super Lawyers directory for a DUI lawyer in your area of Utah.
If you’d like more general information about this area of the law, see our DUI/DWI law overview.
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