Equal Protection Challenge
The Equal Protection Clause of the 14th amendment of the U.S. Constitution prohibits states from denying any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws. Generally, whether or not an equal protection clause has been violated arises when a state grants a particular class of individuals the right to engage in an activity yet denies other individuals the same right. A Georgia defendant made an equal protection challenge in the case of Love v. State, 271 Ga. 398, 517 S.E.2d 53 (1999) after he was arrested for a marijuana DUI in Gwinnett County. You can read the entire case here: Love v. State (1999). This case was a constitutional challenge to the Georgia marijuana DUI law and the argument was that the Georgia law singles out drivers with low levels of marijuana metabolites in their systems for punishment while other drivers may not be punished under the statute if they legally had marijuana in their system and were otherwise unimpaired. For example, if a person legally had marijuana in their system (had a medical marijuana prescription from another state or presently had consumed marijuana in a state where it is now legal under state law to consume marijuana), they would not be subject to a charge of DUI marijuana unless they were rendered incapable of driving safely because they had consumed marijuana. If a Georgia resident was arrested for DUI and had marijuana in his/her system (the same as the driver with a medical marijuana prescription or otherwise) he/she would be subject to prosecution for a DUI marijuana in Georgia. Thus, as stated above, Georgia law grants a particular class of individuals the right to engage in an activity yet denies other individuals the same right. This different treatment of two different groups of people is why the equal protection challenge was made in the case.
Making the equal Protection Challenge
The Georgia marijuana law was attacked for being unconstitutional. When a statute is attacked for being unconstitutional, the statute is presumed to be constitutional. Different constitutional challenges are examined by the courts using different types of tests. An equal protection challenge is examined under the "rational relationship test." The question that has to be answered under the rational relationship test is:
The defendant in Love v. State succeeded in showing that Georgia statute on marijuana DUI cases was unconstitutional by showing that the statute violated the equal protection clause by "arbitrarily changing the burden of proof of guilt." The two different scenarios are:
The Court held that there was no legislative distinction between users of legal and illegal marijuana as to the purpose of the statute; public safety. Therefore, the Court held that the statute was arbitrarily drawn and constituted an unconstitutional denial of equal protection under the law.
What this Case Means and How It Applies
The holding in Love v. State is significant because it means that the State must prove that a driver with marijuana in his/her system must be rendered incapable of driving safely because of the marijuana he/she had consumed. The fact that there is a positive drug test for marijuana is not the end of the inquiry in a marijuana DUI case. There must be other evidence to prove guilt in a marijuana DUI case: driving unsafe, physical manifestations of impairment, or poor performance on field sobriety tests. If the prosecution is unable to show any evidence of impairment, a person should not be found guilty of a marijuana DUI in the State of Georgia.
Blog posts by Bill Hardman at DUI Blog and Case Results