Yo, what’s good? My name is Dan and I’m here to talk about a recent court case that went down in New Mexico. So basically, this chick Nina Luna got pulled over by the 5-0 in Albuquerque back in 2018. The cop said she had red, watery eyes, slurred speech, and her car smelled like weed. Luna admitted to smoking a bowl a few hours before driving, but the pig still made her do a field sobriety test designed for alcohol impairment. She did poorly on the test and ended up getting charged with driving under the influence and speeding.
Fast forward to May 16 of this year, and the New Mexico Supreme Court was hearing arguments about roadside cannabis testing in relation to Luna’s case. Her public defender argued that the field sobriety test shouldn’t be admissible as evidence because it doesn’t properly measure cannabis impairment.
Luna’s lawyer also tried to get the cop’s testimony suppressed because he’s not an expert in drug recognition, but was denied. The state District Court ruled that “a reasonable fact-finder could conclude…[Luna] was influenced by drugs to such a degree that she could not safely operate a motor vehicle.” The state Court of Appeals upheld that decision in 2021.
But then, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case in December 2022, which brings us to the most recent hearing. Luna’s lawyer was asked about evidence of impairment and argued that it wasn’t compelling. She pointed out recent studies that show how hard it is to determine impairment based on field sobriety tests. She said cops can testify about their observations as laypeople, but shouldn’t claim someone passed or failed or make claims about pupil size being relative to impairment without proper training.
The Assistant General argued against disqualifying an officer’s testimony because of lack of training, citing a 2021 Court of Appeals ruling from Florida that said field sobriety tests are “easily understood tests that a layperson can observe and identify signs of impairment.” She said the cop didn’t need to be a drug recognition expert to give testimony in this case and that holding otherwise would have “dire consequences.”
No ruling was made during or immediately after the hearing, but the issue of cannabis impairment is a tricky one. A study from May 2022 found that THC in blood or breath tests doesn’t necessarily indicate impairment. A Canadian study from April 2021 highlighted the need for accurate methods of detecting impairment while driving. It’s a big challenge because everyone reacts differently to cannabis and there are so many factors at play.
In February, a police department in Maryland started inviting weed consumers to its training academy to demonstrate driving impairment in exchange for snacks and pizza. Unlike drunk driving, it’s not easy to determine if someone is too high to drive. But as more states legalize weed, it’s important for law enforcement to have accurate, reliable methods of testing for impairment that don’t unfairly target cannabis consumers.
So there you have it, folks. The New Mexico Supreme Court is grappling with the tricky issue of cannabis impairment and how to accurately measure it. Stay tuned for more updates on this important topic.