BOISE, Idaho — The Idaho Court of Appeals has overturned the conviction of a Boise man for driving under the influence of marijuana, a rare reversal for a kind of case legal experts say is typically settled by the science of blood testing.
In a decision issued late last week, the court reversed Geirrod Stark’s 2010 misdemeanor conviction on grounds that the blood tests taken after his arrest only proved he had used marijuana recently, not on the specific day he was pulled over by police.
While there is no question Stark was impaired that day, wrote Judge Pro Tem Jesse Walters, there was no proof that drugs – and not some other condition – caused the erratic driving.
“Although this evidence was sufficient to prove that Stark’s ability to drive was impaired, it was not sufficient, by itself, to prove that Stark was under the influence of drugs or intoxicating substances,” Walters wrote.
Stark was initially arrested July 8, 2010, and submitted to a blood screening that showed trace levels of THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.
During his original trial, Stark said he occasionally used marijuana but hadn’t used it the day he drew police attention by making an illegal right turn. Stark attributed his failure in field sobriety tests to hunger and dehydration. Stark also said he suffers from paranoid schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
Stark’s attorney, Thomas Dominick, said it’s unusual for impaired driving cases to be overturned in appeals court.
“In this case there was evidence of impairment, but they have to show that the impairment was caused by alcohol, drugs or intoxicating substances,” he said.
The decision has also attracted the attention and concern of the Idaho attorney general’s office, which filed a petition to the Idaho Supreme Court seeking a review of the appeals court opinion.
Deputy Attorney General Kenneth Jorgensen said the state has established case law for alcohol infractions, but the legal books are less clear when it comes to other substances.
“We don’t have a lot of established law about what the state has to prove on driving under the influence of drugs,” he said. “That’s why we think the Supreme Court ought to take a look at this.”