DUI with a Controlled Substance Metabolite 

When officers suspect impairment from marijuana, the officers will often testify that the saw and smelled marijuana in the vehicle or on the driver's person. The officers will search for marijuana or other contraband in the vehicle. Although any medical professional would testify that such observations are nonsense, the officers are trained to look and find a “lack of convergence in the driver's eyes” and green mucus covering the tongue.

In many of these cases, the officer will secure a blood test during the DUI investigation that can reveal whether the driver has a primary metabolite of marijuana or another type of controlled substances in his or her body. If you were charged under Utah Code section 41-6a-517 for operating a motor vehicle with a metabolite of a controlled substance, including marijuana, in your body, then contact an experienced criminal defense attorney in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Attorney for DUI Drug Cases in Salt Lake City, UT

If you were arrested for any DUI case involving the consumption of drugs, narcotics, or controlled substances, then contact an experienced criminal defense attorney at Brown, Bradshaw & Moffat, LLP. We represent clients charged with a variety of driving offenses such as DUI, reckless driving, racing on highways, or driving while license suspended.

Call (801) 532-5297 to speak with an attorney today.


Does DUI with a Controlled Substance Metabolite Require Impairment?

The plain language of section 41-6a-517 requires a showing of impairment. As such, it appears to violate the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution and the uniform operation of laws provision of the Utah Constitution, by allowing a conviction without any showing of actual impairment.

Utah Code section 41-6a-517 criminalizes the operating or being in actual physical control of a motor vehicle (DUI) with any measurable amount of a controlled substance, including a metabolite, in one's body, regardless of the substance's potential to cause impairment.

The statute appears to violate the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution and article I, section 24 of the Utah Constitution because the plain language of Utah Code Section 41-6a-517 does not require impairment. 

Utah Code section 41-6a-517 provides that “[i]n cases not amounting to a violation of Section 41-6a-502 [the DUI statute], a person may not operate or be in actual physical control of a motor vehicle within this state if the person has any measurable controlled substance or metabolite of a controlled substance in the person's body.” 

Does the phrase “in cases not amounting to,” distinguish section 41-6a-517 from section 41-6a-502, by negating any requirement to show actual or potential impairment?

The DUI statute “acknowledges that impairment occurs by degrees, and that a person only violates that statute when his or her impairment rises to a level that the person is incapable of safe operation of a vehicle. Prior to the point of incapacity of safe operation of a vehicle, the person has not violated the statute.

Others argue that the DUI statute criminalizes driving under three conditions, only one of which mentions “render[ing] the person incapable of safely operating a vehicle.” See UTAH CODE § 41-6a-502(1)(b). The other conditions include: 

  1. “sufficient alcohol in the person's body that a subsequent chemical test shows that the person has a blood or breath alcohol concentration of .08 grams or greater at the time of the test”; and
  2. “a blood or breath alcohol concentration of .08 grams or greater at the time of operation or actual physical control.” Id. § 41-6a-502(1)(a), (c).

Does an individual violate the statute when he or she operates or is in actual physical control of a motor vehicle with any measurable controlled substance or metabolite of a controlled substance in the person's body even without any impairment?

Utah Code section 41-6a-517 violates the uniform operation of laws provision because it creates disparate treatment between persons similarly situated and there is no rational nexus between the legislative objective and the chosen classification.

An individual violates the statute when he or she operates or is in actual physical control of a motor vehicle with any measurable controlled substance or metabolite of a controlled substance in his or her body. 

Subsection (3) of the statute provides three affirmative defenses:

  1. the controlled substance was “involuntarily ingested by the accused,” 
  2. “prescribed by a practitioner for use by the accused,” or 
  3. “otherwise legally ingested.”

These affirmative defenses classify individuals into two groups: 

  1. those who illegally ingest a controlled substance and then operate or are in actual physical control of a motor vehicle; and 
  2. those who legally or involuntarily ingest a controlled substance and then operate or are in actual physical control of a motor vehicle.

What is the purpose of Utah Code section 41-6a-517? Is it to deter illegal drug use or to protect the citizens on or near the roadways of the state from drivers operating vehicles while under the influence of impairing substances.


History of Utah’s DUI Drug Statute

When section 41-6a-517 was proposed to the state legislature, its sponsor articulated concerns that motivated the law's creation. Utah Senate Floor Debates, S.B. 101, 50th Leg., 1994 Gen. Sess. (Feb. 14, 1994) (statements of Sen. Craig Peterson). The sponsor of the bill emphasized the need for a prosecutable offense of driving while under the influence of illicit drugs and the impossibility of establishing a level of impairment comparable to the DUI limit.

The legislature determined that the classification created by Utah Code section 41-6a-517 would deter illegal drug use and maintain public safety. The classification deters illegal drug use by making it a chargeable offense to voluntarily and illegally ingest a controlled substance and then operate a motor vehicle. It also promotes public safety by discouraging individuals who have ingested controlled substances from operating motor vehicles and creating potentially dangerous driving conditions. 

In State v. Outzen, --- P.3d ----, 2017 WL 2483018, 840 Utah Adv. Rep. 35, 2017 UT 30 (2017), the Utah Supreme Court held that a person violates Utah Code section 41-6a-517 if he or she operates or is in actual physical control of a motor vehicle with any measurable amount or metabolite of a controlled substance in his or her body. The court held that the plain language of this statute does NOT require an additional finding of impairment. The court found that the statute does not create a status offense in violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution, or the uniform operation of laws provision of the Utah Constitution. 


Finding Lawyers for DUI Drug Cases in Salt Lake City, Utah 

Our attorneys represent clients charged with operating a motor vehicle with a metabolite of a controlled substance under Utah Code section 41-6a-517. We know how to fight DUI cases after an arrest by a Utah Highway Patrol (UHP) trooper or other local law enforcement officers in police departments across the greater Salt Lake City area.


This article was last updated on Friday, September 1, 2017.