We all know that drugs are dangerous. While the danger to the user is discussed beginning in the elementary school classroom, people sometimes fail to recognize the danger that illegal drugs in Panama City and throughout our region can have on innocent bystanders. From manufacturing to distribution to active use, the use of substances like methamphetamines are particularly concerning because they can impact the life of any member of our community. Drugged driving is only one of the ways drug use can lead to a devastating injury
The News Herald recently updated its readers on the outcome of a federal trial involving methamphetamines. According to the charges, 24-year-old Sara Mari Hoehn and 26-year-old Sean Lamar Rainer, both of Panama City, conspired to manufacture and distribute in excess of 500 grams of the drug in September 2011. Evidence presented at trial showed the pair built a "shake and bake" methamphetamine laboratory based out of a room at the Panama City Microtel Inn and Suites. When police entered the room, they also observed a .22 caliber handgun and 12-gauge Remington sawed-off shotgun.
This week, the federal jury convicted Hoehn on counts including conspiracy to manufacture over 500 grams of methamphetamine, the manufacture of the same, and possession of a sawed-off shotgun used to further a drug-trafficking offense. As provided by minimum mandatory sentencing rules for the drug charges, Hoehn faces 10 years to life in prison, a maximum fine of $10,000,000, and a minimum of 5 years of supervised release. For the gun crime, she faces an additional 10-year prison sentence (to run concurrently to the drug sentence), a fine of up to $250,000, and possibly up to 3 years of supervised release. Rainer pled guilty to similar charges in February and will face a similar sentence.
Contrary to what some users would have others believe, drug use is not a victimless crime. The manufacture and distribution of illegal drugs involves a complex world of violence that all too often spills over into innocent lives. Additionally, users often become so desperate for a high that they commit criminal acts in order to fund their habit. Methamphetamines create a particular danger because some methods of production, including the "shake and bake" style lab involved in the Hoehn case, involve a high potential for explosions and fires (see the blog entries listed below for more detail).
An added danger arises when a user gets behind the wheel of a car. As noted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse ("NIDA"), "Drugged driving is a public health concern because it puts not only the driver at risk, but also passengers and others who share the road." The group, which is a component of the National Institutes of Health ("NIH"), notes that specific efforts by government and private groups have led to a greater awareness about drunk driving and a decline in related injuries and deaths, but that the nation needs a similar understanding of the danger of drugged driving.
Across the nation, criminal laws on drugged driving have lagged behind drunk driving enforcement efforts. Factors involved in this lag include technological limitations on testing, the ability of some drugs to linger in the system for a longer period, and the lack of consensus on what level of use constitutes impairment. A driver is guilty of a drug-related DUI if the driver's normal facilities are impaired by the drug use. This is hardly as clear-cut as the 0.08 BAC limit that triggers a drunk driving charge (although technically a criminal charge could flow from a lower BAC if it impairs function).
While the criminal law is fuzzy at best, a civil suit can bring justice to a victim injured by a drugged driver. The burden of proof in a civil suit is lower than that in a criminal trial, and only a civil suit focuses on compensating the victim. In addition to representing those injured by a Panama City drugged driving accident, our team is also prepared to help victims injured by other drug-related incidents, such as someone hurt in a fire sparked by a meth lab explosion. Please call for a free consultation. We can help you recover damages and get the justice you deserve.