State v. Nicole Schutte, 2006 WI App 135, PFR filed 7/21/06
For Schutte: Donald T. Lang, SPD, Madison Appellate
Issue/Holding1: Evidence of the driver’s marijuana use just before the accident resulting in the charged homicide by negligent use of vehicle was relevant and admissible:
¶48 Although the toxicology expert could not tie the level of THC detected in Schutte’s blood to a specific level of impairment, she noted at trial that “some driving skills … are affected” including judgment, reaction time and information processing. She also noted that THC “affects a person’s perception of time and space so that the ability to judge distances, speeds and relationship to other objects is also d[i]minished,” and, further, that coordination, balance and concentration are also affected. Finally, she explained that THC “does have a tendency for people to fixate their attention for a longer period of time on one type of task or another, whether it’s looking out the window to check a building or putting in a CD.” These effects all relate directly to a person’s ability to safely drive a motor vehicle. Despite the lack of testimony that Schutte experienced any of these effects prior to the collision, jurors, without speculating on Schutte’s precise level of impairment, if any, could reasonably conclude from the expert’s testimony that Schutte’s use of a substance capable of producing these effects, while (or immediately prior to) driving on a rural highway at night in adverse weather and road conditions, was a circumstance rendering it more probable that her conduct was criminally negligent.
Consideration of § 346.63(1)(am), which criminalizes driving with a detectable amount of a controlled substance, is appropriate in making a relevancy determination, ¶50.
Issue/Holding2: Evidence of the driver’s marijuana use just before the accident resulting in the charged homicide by negligent use of vehicle wasn’t unfairly prejudicial, ¶¶52-56.