Drug driver beats charge on technicality

A woman who tested positive for cannabis and opiates after being stopped on suspicion of drug driving had her charge dismissed in court this week (October 5 ) after the judge ruled gardai had not proven her inability to drive as required by the law.

The court heard from Garda Keith Harrison how he had stopped Louise Courtney (34 ), with an address at St Mel’s Terrace Athlone, on the Ballymahon Road just before 10pm on January 29.

“Her speech was very slurred judge, and I smelt cannabis from her clothing or breath. Her pupils were fixed and glazed,” said Garda Harrison.

Courtney was arrested and taken to the Garda station where a blood sample was taken.

Garda Harrison gave evidence that whilst in the station Courtney admitted to him verbally that she had taken methadone and had smoked cannabis and heroin earlier in the day.

The court heard how, when results came back from the Garda Medical Bureau on April 3, they showed Ms Courtney tested positive for cannabis and BZP, a metabolyte of opiates. Earlier tests had returned negative for alcohol.

In cross examination by defence solicitor, Mr Padraig Quinn, Gda Harrison denied he had earlier waved Ms Courtney through a checkpoint or that he had said: “Get out of the car, you’re off your head”, when he did stop her later that evening.

He listed all the visible symptoms he saw in Ms Courtney and added: “ I certainly got a smell of cannabis from the car”.

He added there was no reason to handcuff Ms Courtney as she was “fully compliant and reasonable” after arrest.

However, when Mr Quinn pointed out that though Garda Harrison told the court he cautioned Ms Courtney formally after her alleged statement of admission in the station that night, he omitted this from his signed statement.

Garda Harrison accepted this error and Judge David Anderson dismissed the charge when he was shown a doctor’s letter that confirmed Ms Courtney is prescribed methadone.

“There’s a certificate in court that says the defendant was driving whilst under the influence of an intoxicant but it’s not been proved she was incapable of driving a motorised propelled vehicle,” said the judge.

“It’s an old-fashioned Section 49(1 ), Inspector. It has to be proved.”

Under this section of the driving whilst under the influence act, it is not enough to prove evidence of drugs in the accused’s system, but must also be accompanied by evidence of their being incapable of driving.


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