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Legal issues of inventing a breath test to detect drugs - Part I

News of a new breath test that could detect the presence of THC, the chemical found in marijuana that causes impairment, is spreading across national news outlets, causing law enforcement agencies and criminal defense advocates to consider what impact this could have on the nation, especially when it comes to criminal charges for driving under the influence of drugs.

As some of our Boone County readers know, there are existing tests, commonly used by TSA agents at airports, that detect the presence of drugs in real time. According to a chemistry professor at Washington State University, these tests could be altered and adapted for use in the field by law enforcement across the nation. Presently, the chemistry professor and a doctoral student at the university are working on a prototype device that could mean big changes to traffic stops and the law.

The breath test device currently in development would work in a similar fashion to certain models of Breathalyzers that use ion mobility spectrometry to determine the concentration of a particular substance in a person's system. According to reports, the device will help law enforcement "quickly determine whether a driver is under the influence of marijuana," allowing the officer to make an arrest without having to resort to more invasive techniques such as a blood draw, which is one method used in a DUID arrest.

But such devices could pose a problem in many states, including our own Missouri, where gauging a driver's impairment from drugs seems to rely more on an officer's observation of the driver rather than the actual level of substance in the person's system. In next week's post, we will look at the legal issues a THC test could create for Missourian drivers and how best to handle criminal charges if they should find themselves facing them down the road.

Source: The Washington Times, "Marijuana breath test being developed at Washington State University," Jessica Chasmar, Nov. 30, 2014

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