Loophole in Minnesota law for drugged drivers

Cops are cuffing impaired drivers in record numbers, but some of them are getting off easy thanks to a loophole in the law. More than 1,000 people in Minnesota were convicted of driving under the influence of a controlled substance in 2013. That's a 70 percent jump since 2008. Some of those drivers are high on prescription medications from doctors, marijuana or one of a long list of other substances. VIEW PHOTOS

Killed on his birthday by a drugged driver

Last April, a well-known Hopkins businessman, Jim Hance, died on his 75th birthday due to a head-on crash caused by a drugged driver in St. Louis Park.

21-year old Jorge Romero Juarez pled guilty to criminal vehicular homicide in the death of Hance. As police questioned Juarez the night of the accident, they asked him what he had been drinking. He replied: "sprite, orange crush, juice, stuff like that."

Later police found out he was a drugged driver. According to the Hennepin County Attorney's office Juarez admitted he smoked pot and took Xanax before driving.

His family talked to Fox 9 at Hance Ace Hardware in Hopkins. They said it was still too soon to clear off their father's desk at the store. "He's kind of all around, you see his stuff in the office and there's some comfort in all that, and some days it's more of a torment," said his son, Jeff Hance.

Juarez is serving a 52-month prison sentence. He turned down a request from the Fox 9 Investigators for an interview.

Loophole in the law

Getting a conviction for a drug induced-DWI can be challenging. Unlike alcohol, where everyone understands its illegal to drive with a blood level of .08 or more there 's no such threshold to determine impairment from drugs.

So prosecutors must rely on the results of sobriety tests and squad videos of disturbing driving behavior to make their cases.

A loophole in Minnesota law also complicates matters. The state has a specific list of substances that must be detected in a driver's system in order to file a DWI charge. If the drug isn't on that list, there's no DWI.

"There are thousands of substances that can easily impair somebody's ability and we can't really charge somebody for DWI with those," said Lt. Don Marose from the MN State Patrol.

Cough syrup is one. A person could down an entire bottle, be swerving all over the road but under current law can't be charged with a DWI. The same is true for some prescription drugs, like Paxil.

In California, they made it simple. You can get a DWI for anything that causes impairment.

State patrol videos tell the story

State patrol videos of drugged drivers in action were obtained by the Fox 9 Investigators through Minnesota's open records law. One shows a car swerving on I-94 during the morning rush hour. The trooper has to take evasive action as the guy nearly side swipes his squad. Lab tests reveal that driver was under the influence of Xanax, a drug for anxiety and marijuana.

Another video shows an arrest at 9:30 in the morning on 394 near downtown Minneapolis. A 19-year-old driver crashes his car into a truck. He has bloodshot eyes and slurred speech. He passes a breathalyzer test and a drug-recognition expert is called in to put him through a series of sobriety checks. After being taken in for a blood test, the lab finds a combination of an anti-anxiety drug, cocaine and weed in his system.

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