Now that Washington State and Colorado have legalized Marijuana presumptively there is going to be more DUI arrests in those States for Green DUI's (those under the influence of Marijuana). One of the observations that law enforcement often relies on in addition to the usual signs of impairment when it comes to Marijuana is a green tongue. So the question becomes is a green tongue enough to get arrested for DUI?
First it must be determined whether Marijuana actually causes a tongue to turn green.
As I have noted before in my blog, I don't take part in Washington State's newest over 21 adult activity. So I asked several people I know who do, as well as some experts in the area of Marijuana impairment. They all had the same answer to whether Marijuana causes a green tongue. Absolutely not?
So how did law enforcement come up with this green tongue phenomena. I guess it was first started by the National Highway Safety Administration. You know the same agency that created those wonderful roadside gymnastics tests that law enforcement and Prosecutors swear up and down detect impairment. They warn of the following characteristics for a Marijuana DUI under DEC profile,
"characteristic indicators may include odor of marijuana in car or own subject's breath, marijuana debris in mouth, green coating on tongue, bloodshot eyes, body and eyelid tremors, relaxed inhibitions, incomplete thought process, and poor performance on the field sobriety tests." NHTSA, "Drugs and Human Performance Fact Sheets
Yet NHTSA offers no documented medical evidence to support their position. If you have ever tried a Marijuana DUI case then you know both the Tox and Cop say the taste buds get raised on the tongue, and the burnt Marijuana as well as the debris causes it to turn the tongue green. I guess if you have a green slurpee, or a green jolly rancher, or a green lollipop you will get arrested for a Green DUI under the line of thinking.
So clearly NHTSA has it correct (Im being facetious), and thus this so called green tongue phenomena has started. So that brings me to the second question I posted.
If you have a green tongue does that give an Officer probable cause to arrest for a Green DUI here in Washington State?
Remember probable is the reasonable suspicion that would warrant a reasonable officer a crime has been committed. Since probable cause and Marijuana really hasn't been discussed by the Washington State Supreme Court there really only two cases that discuss this idea and one is an unpublished opinion.
In State v. Wheeler, the Court of Appeals dismissed the idea that a green tongue and admission to past marijuana use by a driver gave rise to a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. In fact here is what they said.
"Although we assume the officer's assertion to be true for purposes of this opinion, we are nevertheless skeptical as to its accuracy. We find no case stating that recent marijuana usage leads to a green tongue. The only case we could find that remotely supports such a proposition is State v. Baity, 140 Wn.2d 1, 991 P.2d 1151 (2000), wherein the opinion's fact section mentions that the defendant, who had admitted to recent marijuana usage, also had a green tongue. Beyond this observation, however, the court never analyzes whether the green tongue and the recent marijuana usage are linked. And the officer who made the observation does not assert a connection between the two."
So basically the only ruling is unpublished but if you read between the lines the Court of Appeals has issues with the accuracy of what the Trooper said. I think they are saying its BS, but that is just my opinion.
So why am I bring this up. Well has you know I'm a Seattle DUI lawyer. I represent people not only accused of DUI involving alcohol, but also Marijuana. And with the recently legalization of Marijuana this issue will soon get decided. In fact I read online there was a recent case in the City of Kent where an individual was arrested for having a green tongue, and there was no other indicators of impairment. You can check it out here. It is titled, "Wash State Man Arrested for Having "green tongue."
Long story short. This guy got arrested for a Green DUI in Kent. Officer said he had green tongue, and in his infinite years of experience, and despite his lack of any sort of medical corroboration this is a sign of Marijuana use and he was arrested. Should be interesting to see what happens in this case.
If you have been arrested for a Green DUI and the only evidence against you is a '"green tongue," you need to fight these charges. This is absolute BS, and is an infringement on our 4th amendment rights.
Matthew A. Leyba is a DUI Attorney in Seattle, WA. He has been named a 2013 Rising Star by Super Lawyers Magazine in the area of Criminal Defense, an honor only given to less than 2.5% of all Attorneys in Washington State. His practice focuses on representing those accused of DUI and other serious traffic offenses.