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Erin Hughes Case Draws National Attention to Illinois’ Marijuana-Related DUI Laws

Even a Microscopic Amount of Marijuana Residue Can Lead to a DUI Charge

This unique aspect of DUI law is one that is basically unheard of in mainstream society. It has been brought to the forefront by a highly publicized case out of New Trier, Illinois. That case centers around 18-year-old Erin Hughes who, on May 14 of this year, was involved in a hit and run accident where her vehicle allegedly struck 16-year-old Sarah Goone. Initial charges against her included failing to report an injury-causing accident and other criminal and traffic citations. In the midst of numerous interviews with police, she admitted having smoked marijuana the day before the accident, so blood was drawn, revealing traces of cannabis in her system. At that time DUI charges were added.

Logically, a DUI charge should arise when a vehicle's operator has been shown to be "driving under the influence" of alcohol or drugs, meaning that there is such an amount of an intoxicating substance in that person's blood as to impair his or her ability to drive in a safe manner. Most states' DUI/DWI/OUI/OWI laws are written just like that. In Illinois, and in eight other states, there are "zero-tolerance" laws specifically aimed at curtailing marijuana use - in those states, drivers with any measurable amount of a cannabis/THC metabolite (chemical derivatives of marijuana, hashish or similar substances) in their system automatically face a criminal charge, and it is one with penalties above and beyond a standard DUI charge.

In the face of logic, however, fifteen states now have laws that have incorporated some form of drug-specific aggravating factor that can increase possible penalties for and consequences of a DUI conviction. President Obama is in the process of encouraging similar "per se drug impairment" laws to be enacted across the country. While that debate rages on, however, more and more people are arrested for DUI or DWI every day. If you or a loved one is facing charges, you should seek the advice of a skilled criminal defense attorney in your area who has experience handling complex alcohol and drug-related DUI cases. Doing so is an invaluable step towards protecting your rights and learning more about your legal options.