The New Mexico Supreme Court on Tuesday heard arguments about whether roadside impairment testing for alcohol can be used to check for cannabis impairment, the Santa Fe New Mexican reports. The defendant, Nina Luna, was convicted of driving under the influence and speeding in 2018 after a state police officer pulled her over in Albuquerque and determined she was driving while impaired by cannabis.
Following the traffic stop, the officer described in his report that Luna’s eyes were red and watery and she had slurred speech and that he detected a strong odor of cannabis coming from inside her vehicle. According to the officer’s report, Luna admitted having smoked “a bowl” of cannabis several hours before driving and denied having consumed any alcohol. The officer subjected her to field sobriety tests designed to confirm alcohol impairment and arrested her after she performed poorly on some of them, the report says.
Her attorney argued to the Bernalillo County Metro Court that the officer’s testimony should be suppressed, in part because he was not a certified drug-recognition expert; the motion was denied in Metro Court and the state District Court upheld her conviction, determining “a reasonable fact-finder could conclude … [Luna] was influenced by drugs to such a degree that she could not safely operate a motor vehicle.” In 2021, the state Court of Appeals affirmed the District Court ruling.
Luna’s attorney, Luz Valverde, argued to the Supreme Court that officers should be allowed to testify about their observations as laypeople, but should not be allowed to make statements indicating a person passed or failed a certain test or link things such as pupil size to cannabis impairment without specific training. In an email to the New Mexican, she described the case as “more about how police should testify in court than … about how they investigate suspected intoxicated drivers.”
“New Mexico has special Drug Recognition Expert officers who are specially trained in spotting drug-impaired drivers,” she said in the email. “They are the ones who are best suited to testify about drug impairment based on specialized training, not field officers using alcohol impairment tests.”
The court did not immediately issue a ruling. (Full Story)