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by Edmond Geary

The problem with proving Driving Influence of Drugs

Ten years ago in Ben Wheeler, Texas, Candice Anderson had an accident, losing control of her car and crashing it into a tree.  Her fiancé was killed in the accident.  Because she had in her system a trace quantity of the anxiety drug, Xanax, she was prosecuted for criminally negligent homicide.  Investigators could not determine any other cause for the accident on a clear day on a country road without traffic and no skid marks, so they blamed Ms. Anderson for Driving Under the Influence of Drugs.  She pled guilty to the felony charge when offered 5 years probation.

Turns out, the accident was caused by a faulty ignition switch that only now has been acknowledged by its manufacturer, General Motors.  The defect causes the vehicle to lose power, disabling power steering, power brakes and even the airbags.  Thirty-five deaths are attributed to this defect.

Meanwhile in Oklahoma, citizens are commonly prosecuted and convicted for Driving Under the Influence of Drugs based on any trace in their blood of some pain-killer, coupled with some law enforcement officer’s testimony he observed what he suspects are suspicious circumstances.  Blood tests in Oklahoma do not quantify the drug in the arrested person’s system, and they should.  If, as recognized by science and the law, alcohol only in certain quantities impairs driving, the same logic applies to other intoxicants.  Of course, there are those who believe – contrary to the law – that any drinking and driving is unlawful ipso facto. They have taken to heart the publicity campaign that implies the combination of drinking and driving is unlawful, regardless how much drinking.

Authorities now recognize the error of Ms. Anderson’s prosecution, guilty plea and conviction.  The prosecutor joined her petition to set aside and expunge her conviction.  Now without the felony conviction, she will be able to pursue her nursing career.  Incidentally, suffering as she did from a serious liver injury as well as loss of her fiancé from this accident, she may be compensated by the General Motors compensation fund set up for victims of the ignition switch defect.

General Motors has recalled 2.5 million vehicles after determining those vehicles were affected by this ignition switch defect.  The defect shows up when too much weight is put on the ignition key or when there is a jarring of the key.  The result is that the switch changes from the “run” mode to “accessory” mode, thus cutting off electric power for the power steering and the airbags.  In the Anderson accident, the loss of power apparently caused sudden loss of power steering, causing loss of control and then inactivated the airbags as the car struck the tree.