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A fatal crash with trace of drugs in system can mean 15 years

In June 2003, an Athens County jury acquitted an Athens area woman of aggravated vehicular homicide in connection with a car crash that killed a Shade man. A blood test allegedly showed that Farah Holter had chemical byproducts of recent cocaine use in her system at the time of the crash. Her attorney, however, using expert medical testimony, persuaded the jury that those byproducts, or “metabolites,” were not impairing Holter’s ability to drive.

Holter was convicted of only a misdemeanor charge of negligent manslaughter. If her case came up today, however, the outcome might be different.

Effective Aug. 17, the state of Ohio has made it a criminal offense to have certain levels of drug metabolites in your system, regardless of how impaired you may or may not be.

Police still aren’t supposed to be able to order a blood or urine test without some evidence of impairment. But some observers worry that Senate Bill 8 will result in people being charged criminally for the lingering evidence of prior drug use.

“There are obviously going to be more cases,” predicted K. Robert Toy, an Athens defense attorney who handles a fair amount of DUI cases. “I call this the Defense Attorney Relief Act of 2006.”

According to a handout from Athens County Municipal Judge William Grim, including information from the Ohio Department of Health’s Bureau of Alcohol and Drug Testing, S.B. 8 sets “per se” prohibited blood and urine levels for certain drugs.

In plain English, if you have the listed level of the drug in your system after last Thursday, you’re breaking state law regardless of your impairment level.

This may be a new law in Ohio but it’s old news in Georgia. One of the most famous Georgia cases involving trace amounts of drugs and fatal accidents is the Kevinezz case where a woman with trace amounts of cocaine metabolites (not cocaine but the by-products of cocaine after being broken down in the body, i.e., after impairment) got fifteen years in jail. Done drugs, do the time.