A JUDGE has called for the introduction of new laws which will allow gardai carry out so-called impairment tests on suspected drug drivers.
Judge Eugene O’Kelly made his comments in the case of a County Limerick man who was prosecuted at Limerick District Court for driving while under the influence of cannabis last year.
Matthew Corbett, aged 22, of Hillview Drive, Kilteely was arrested after he was stopped at a Mandatory Alcohol Testing (MAT) checkpoint in the city on October 17, 2013.
Garda Brian O’Loughlin of Henry Street garda station said he and a colleague were operating the checkpoint at Mulgrave Street between 11.30pm and 12 midnight having been instructed to do so by Inspector Luke Conlon.
He said at 11.45pm, he noticed a 96 LK-registered Toyota Corolla being driven at speed in the direction of the city and he told the court that the vehicle stopped two metres past the checkpoint.
He said when he spoke to the defendant, who was driving the car, he noticed his eyes were glazed and his speech was slurred.
Garda O’Loughlin told the court he admitted he had “smoked some weed” the previous evening.
A roadside breath test showed the defendant had not consumed any alcohol so he was arrested on suspicion of drug-driving and taken to Henry Street garda station where he later provided a urine sample to Doctor Seamus Kilby.
Garda O’Loughlin said the defendant was released on the night and was charged a number of months later after he received the result of an analysis of the urine sample, which confirmed the presence of cannabis.
The witness agreed with solicitor Brendan Gill that Mr Corbett had cooperated with him on the night and was able to answer all of the questions put to him.
Garda Clare Burke, who processed the defendant at the garda station, said she noted his eyes were “slightly bloodshot” when he arrived and she said he also informed her he had smoked some cannabis the previous evening.
In his evidence, the defendant, who owns a vehicle dismantling and salvage company, insisted he had “immediately pulled in” when he was signalled to do so by Garda O’Loughlin and he denied he had been driving at speed as he approached the checkpoint.
“I did not drive at speed, I was fully capable of controlling the vehicle”, he said.
Mr Corbett told the court he had been working late on the night of the offence and was tired, which may have resulted in his eyes being bloodshot.
The defendant, who was travelling to collect a friend when he was stopped, told his solicitor that after he was released from custody he was handed his keys and told he could go home.
He said his car was parked directly behind Henry Street garda station and that he immediately drove home.
“I was giving permission to go home and was given my keys,” he said.
Seeking a dismissal of the charges, Mr Gill said there had been no evidence that his client was incapable of driving the car when he was stopped. He said no concerns had been expressed about Mr Corbett’s driving on the night, which he submitted, was supported by the fact he was given back his keys and told he could drive home.
“This offence carries a draconian penalty and he must be given the benefit of any doubt,” he said.
Dismissing the case, Judge O’Kelly noted that unlike in drink driving prosecutions, it is not possible, in drug driving cases, to determine the level of a particular drug in a suspect’s system “with any certainty”.
He commented that although certain impairment tests have been been devised and included in recent road traffic legislation, they have not yet been signed into law.
“The sooner they are brought into law, the better,” said the judge who added that the use of such tests would “give better assistance to the gardai”.
He said the fact that Mr Corbett was given back his keys and told he was free to go had to introduce a doubt as to his level of incapacity on the night and he said this doubt “has to go to his benefit”.