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Arizona ex rel. Montgomery v. Harris

    Brief Fact Summary.

    Shilgevorkyan was stopped by an officer for speeding and making unsafe lane changes. The officer conducted a sobriety test and found Carboxy-THC. Shilgevorkyan  was charged with two counts. Shilgevorkyan moved to dismiss count two alleging he did not have the requisite metabolite under the statute, and the charge should be dismissed. The trial court granted Shilgevorkyan’s motion to dismiss.  State appealed the trial court’s ruling.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    When a statute appears to be ambiguous the court must evaluate the legislature’s intent.

     

    Facts.

    Hrach Shilgevorkyan was stopped by a police officer for speeding and making unsafe lane changes. The officers suspected that Shilgevorkyan was impaired and administered a sobriety test. Shilgevorkyan admitted he smoked “weed†the night before and, thereafter, agreed to a blood test, which revealed Carboxy-Tetrahydrocannabinol (“Carboxy-THCâ€), a non impairing metabolite of marijuana. Shilgevorkyan was charged with two counts of driving under the influence: (1) driving under the influence of any drug and (2) driving a vehicle while there is any drug or metabolite in the person’s body. Shilgevorkyan moves to dismiss count two alleging he did not have a metabolite in his body because he did not have Hydroxy-THC. An expert testified that marijuana is composed of many types of metabolites, and Hydroxy-THC and Carboxy-THC are two of the main metabolites. Also, it is possible to test Hydroxy-THC in an individual’s blood, however, the Arizona Department of Public Safety does not run that test because the Hydroxy-THC does not remaining the blood for a long time. Therefore, the State tests for Carboxy-THC, which can remain in an individual’s body for twenty-eight to thirty days after the marijuana was ingested.

    Issue.

    Whether the term “metabolite†in the Section 28-1381(a)(3) includes secondary metabolites in an individuals blood, such as Carboxy-THC.

    Held.

    No, the statute did not intend to criminalize the presence of the secondary metabolites.

    Dissent.

    The statute is not ambiguous because the term “metabolite†only has one meaning. Therefore, the majority should not have considered the legislatives intent. The legislature could have thought that a complete ban on metabolites in a person’s blood system would be the most effective way to enforce Arizona’s zero-tolerance on driving with any controlled substance.  Also, a flat ban on all types of metabolites makes it easier for officer to detect drugged driving.

    Discussion.

    The court noted that a metabolite has not been defined by the state, and the standard definition is “[a]ny product of metabolism.†Further, metabolism is defined as “the sum of all physical and chemical changes that take place within an organism.†Moreover, the State contends that these definitions support their theory that the word “metabolite†under the statute includes any compound that is broken down when the body is processing the drug. Nevertheless, Shilgevorkyan says the statute clearly uses metabolite in the singular sense, not the plural, which only prohibits Hydroxy-THC, not including the secondary metabolites. Also, Shilgevorkyan argues that the plural meaning of metabolite is inconsistent with the legislature’s intent, which is to criminalize driving under the influence of an intoxicating substance because the secondary metabolites do not cause impairment. The court noted that the term metabolite is ambiguous and evaluated the legislature’s intent. Because Carboxy-THC exists in the body for such a long period, the court realized that the State’s interpretation of the statute would criminalize legal behavior. Therefore, the court did not believe that was the form of conduct the statute was intended to criminalize, and the court affirmed the trial court’s ruling.



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