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Judge makes an example of marijuana user who killed a motorcyclist


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In handing out a harsh sentence to a driver who smoked marijuana before she collided with a motorcyclist and killed him, Judge Rosemarie Aquilina is making an example of her.

The lesson: Don’t smoke weed and drive.

Problem is, in Michigan, it’s unclear what that lesson means. Marijuana is now legal, but any amount in a driver’s system could be considered intoxication under the current law.

The sentence given to Logan Brooke Turner, 21, of Dimondale, underscores what’s at stake. Aquilina handed her a minimum of nearly six years in prison for operating while intoxicated, causing the death of motorcyclist Blair Beck, 21.

Turner admits smoking marijuana the day of the crash, but her attorney, Lucas Dillon, argued she had no signs of intoxication beyond a blood test. A jury wasn’t convinced and convicted her after a four-day trial.

Dillon said Turner was prepared for a one- or two-year minimum sentence. Seventy months was stunning.

“We were basically outraged and shocked by the sentence,” he said. “I think it’s completely out of line.”

The judge’s sentence went beyond the five years sought by prosecutors — the same amount of time they argued that it would have taken Blair Beck to meet a girl and start a family, travel cross county with his dad on motorcycles or finish his education.

Recreational marijuana was illegal at the time Turner caused Beck’s death but legal by the time a jury found her guilty.

Dillon, who is not a marijuana advocate, said the case points to the need for Michigan to better define impairment, especially now that it’s legal.

“People are going to be driving around all the time with weed in their system. That doesn’t mean that they’re high,” he said.

As my colleague Kara Berg has reported, how laws against driving while high are enforced depends on who is doing the enforcement. She spoke with nine prosecutors for a December report and found almost as many answers.

”Michigan has a zero tolerance law for drivers with certain narcotics in their system, such as cocaine, marijuana and heroin. That hasn’t changed with the legalization of recreational marijuana.

“Or maybe it has, depending on who you ask,” she wrote.

Some prosecutors said evidence of intoxication, such as swerving while driving or failing a sobriety test, is needed in addition to evidence of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the active ingredient in marijuana. Others said THC alone was enough.

Some clarity on marijuana intoxication may be in the offing. An Impaired Driving Safety Commission, appointed in 2016 by then-Gov. Rick Snyder, has been working to make recommendations to the governor and Legislature on legal marijuana intoxication levels. A report is due out in March.

Michigan State University Professor Norbert Kaminski, director of the Institute for Integrative Toxicology, is a member of the task force. He said recommendations are being finalized.

“Certainly, the commission is wanting an appropriate and fair way to judge whether people are impaired,” he said.

In Turner’s case, she had 5 nanograms of THC, the same amount of marijuana that constitutes impairment in states that have a set limit, including Colorado, a state with a high threshold for impairment.

So she may have been found guilty even under well-thought-out, reasonable standards, though Dillon said evidence was submitted that Turner smoked after the accident and before she was taken into police custody for testing.

The sentence is tougher than some convictions for drunk driving that led to deaths.

Dillon cited the sentence of Cleveland Browns wide receiver Donte’ Stallworth to 30 days in jail for killing a pedestrian while driving drunk in Florida in 2009 as a contrast to Turner’s 70-month sentence.

That’s in another state, under another set of laws. More locally, a Mason man driving while intoxicated who hit and killed a pedestrian, was given a one-year sentence in 2016.

Years ago, I heard a prison reform advocate describe how we should save our prison space for those people we are afraid of, not people we’re mad at. The reason? Prison is expensive, and we should use our resources wisely.

That makes Aquilina’s lesson a pricey one. And nearly six years of prison seems much more like anger than fear.

Related: Are you too high to drive? That’ll depend on where you get pulled over

The post Judge makes an example of marijuana user who killed a motorcyclist appeared first on Komorn Law.

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