Whether you live in Montana or are simply passing through for work or vacation, you may not be aware of recent changes to the state laws governing driving under the influence (DUI). Although Montana has always been known for its expansive land and independent spirit, these changes have operated to significantly increase the penalties for DUI conviction. And even if you don't plan on drinking while in Montana, if you currently hold a prescription for medical marijuana or narcotic pain medication, you could find yourself facing DUI charges after a routine traffic stop. Read on to learn more about the recent changes in these laws and how they may affect you.
What activities could have you facing a DUI charge in Montana?
Although the term DUI is generally associated with driving while under the influence of alcohol, most states (including Montana) have also passed laws that address driving under the influence of marijuana or other drugs.
- Medical marijuana
The purchase and use of medical marijuana is legal in Montana -- however, if you're a regular user, you may want to hand the wheel over to someone else. Testing positive for even trace amounts of marijuana metabolites on a blood or urine test performed after a routine traffic stop can be used as presumptive proof that you were driving under the influence. This is true even if you show no other signs of impairment. And because marijuana (unlike most other drugs) may show up in your blood or urine for weeks or even months after your last use, driving while holding a valid medical marijuana prescription may put you behind the crosshairs.
Like other states, Montana has set its legal intoxication limit at 0.08 percent blood alcohol content (BAC). However, you don't necessarily need to test at or above this level to find yourself facing charges -- even if you test below 0.08 percent, your actions can be used as evidence of impairment. For example, if you're involved in an at-fault accident, or are observed weaving or repeatedly leaving the shoulder of the road, these may be used along with a lower BAC reading to establish you were driving under the influence.
- Prescription painkillers
Whether you were temporarily prescribed painkillers after a surgery or injury, or are on a low long-term dose to help you deal with chronic pain, you'll want to ensure you're obeying all applicable traffic laws to avoid a DUI charge. As with the consumption of alcohol below "legally intoxicated" levels, a positive blood or urine test for opiate metabolites along with other evidence of sloppy driving can establish you were operating your vehicle while impaired.
What penalties could you be facing if charged with a DUI in Montana?
Prior to the recent legislative session, the dollar amount of DUI fines and costs in Montana had not been changed for 35 years, and were among the lowest in the nation. However, you'll now be facing much higher fines of up to $600 for your first DUI conviction (or $1,200 if you were driving a 16-year-old or younger child), and up to $5,000 if charged with DUI transporting of a minor after having had 2 or more DUI convictions in other states. You'll also be assessed a fee of $300 if you refuse to take a sobriety test after being requested to do so by a police officer.
If you're facing your first DUI charge, you'll usually be able to negotiate a plea bargain with the prosecutor to allow you to pay a reduced fine or to have charges dropped after a probationary period. However, you'll want to enlist a local DUI attorney to help ensure that you achieve the most favorable result possible in your situation. A good criminal defense attorney will ensure that the prosecution is able to support (with evidence) every component of the alleged crime, and may be able to negotiate a reduced sentence or even have the charges dropped.