A horrific crash in Florida highlighted the possible dangers and legal defense challenges of driving after huffing inhalant chemicals.
A man has been charged with driving while intoxicated and killing four people. Authorities say the man was huffing a Dust-Off can, an aerosol commonly used to clean computer keyboards, which contains the chemical difluorethane (DFE). The man is claimed to have driven up to speeds of 107 miles per hour when he drove into the other car.
There is No Legal Limit for a DWI from Huffing
Everyone has heard of the legal limit for alcohol – a .08 blood alcohol content. No such legal limit exists for when people huff chemicals such as here.
The man’s criminal defense attorney argued that the presence of DFE in the blood does not prove intoxication. That is true – the simple presence of DFE in a person’s system does not mean the person is intoxicated. The man must proven to be under the influence of DFE – actually impaired – before a conviction. The attorney further argued that in this case, the man’s accelerator gear was stuck and that’s why such high rates of speed were reached. The argument is that the accident did not result from DFE intoxication.
Why is There no Legal Limit for Huffing Chemicals?
The reality is that there is not a legal limit for any drug except alcohol and a few states with legal limits for marijuana. To create a legal limit, a drug must be studied in-depth so that researches can determine an amount of a drug over which a person is physically or mentally impaired.
It is not difficult to imagine that such studies are difficult with many drugs. Obviously researchers are not going to have people huff and then test their coordination. Huffing is already very dangerous, with some people experiencing unintended and sudden death in certain cases.
What is Huffing?
Huffing is the inhalation of solvent chemicals into the mouth or nose. The high from huffing can be similar to alcohol. These solvent chemicals can be purchased at most stores – the chemicals themselves are legal. The chemicals can also be inexpensive, making them easy to obtain.
How Common is Huffing?
In the Florida county where the crash occurred, Palm Beach, there were 20 arrests between 8 different men for huffing going back two years. In the last four years, Palm Beach has seen 20 cases of driving while intoxicated resulting a death. However, this instance was the only case involving allegations of huffing.
In another Florida case, a 61-year old man was convicted of vehicular manslaughter after inhaling the chemical Toluene and killing a child. He is serving 8.5 years for the charge, which did not involve a conviction under an operating under the influence theory.
In Broward County, a man plead guilty after huffing difluorethane and killing a pedestrian while driving. In Pensacaloa, a man was found guilty following a jury trial when he was found to have huffed Endust, which he purchased ten minutes before the crash.
Many others states have grappled with the issue of drivers high from huffing. Not all states have had a law on the books regulating this behavior at the time of an arrest. For example, Wisconsin and Minnesota have had cases where drivers did not face legal responsibility for driving under the influence of huffing. These state courts ruled that state driving under the influence law did not include huffing chemicals, but rather only alcohol or traditional drugs.
The Florida Case
The man charged with killing four people has his case set for jury trial. His defense attorney argues that the man was not impaired by DFE. The police argue that the presence of DFE shows the man was impaired.
But it’s not that simple. Again, simply having the drug shown in a person’s system is not sufficient for a conviction. A person must also be impaired. And presence of the drug does not equal impairment. The defense attorney argued that police did suspect the man to be impaired at the scene of the crash, evident by the police letting him go at the scene.
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Sam Bernstein is an Ann Arbor DUI Attorney.
ArborYpsi Law is located at 4158 Washtenaw Ave., Ann Arbor, MI 48108.