Use spice and drive, and it may be more likely you’ll pay for the crime in Mesa.
The City of Mesa’s Prosecutor’s Office was recently awarded a grant that will be used to help improve DUI prosecution — specifically those cases that involve synthetic drugs. The grant will allow the city to fund testing of blood samples for synthetic drugs like spice or bath salts when they are suspected.
Mesa Police Lt. Lt. Tom Intrieri said there has been a rise in the number of drug-related DUI cases overall, specifically with spice — a synthetic drug that mimics marijuana — and bath salts.
“Those two categories have been up a lot more this last year and the year before,” he said.
Mesa prosecutor Jon Eliason said the grant will also allow his office to bring in expert witnesses who can attest to the findings in samples.
Intrieri said while it’s a little easier to convince a jury in a DUI trial when alcohol is involved, the grant funds could help change that.
Mesa has traffic officers trained to recognize signs of drug use – whether it’s illicit, prescription or synthetic. The grant will provide funds to train more officers, as well as give them more knowledge on what to look for when they pull over an impaired driver, he said.
“They have to carry that (information) on to the forensics services division so when they analyze the blood, they know what they’re looking for,” Intrieri said.
When a synthetic drug or bath salt is suspected, it will be sent out of state for testing, Eliason said.
Most DUI cases where synthetic drugs or bath salts are suspected involve young people, Intrieri said.
“What we’re seeing through DUI enforcement is from 17, 18, on and up through the college age,” he said.
The nearly $60,000 grant was awarded by the DUI Abatement Council of the Arizona Governor’s Office of Highway Safety.
Part of the funds will also be used to design a website for officers to track their arrest logs. That information will then be available to attorneys.
“The web page is to make us more effective,” Eliason said. “In the end we hope it will help us get cases prosecuted.”
In 2012, there were 3,412 DUI arrests in Mesa, Eliason said. Of those, 41.6 percent — or 1,420 arrests — involved drugs of some type. That’s up slightly from 2011, when 41.2 percent of DUI arrests involved drugs and it’s even higher than 2010, when 37 percent of DUI arrests involved drugs.
“They’re increasing. We hear about it on the prescription drug side,” Eliason said. “If you’re abusing it or it’s a powerful prescription, you’re not supposed to drive. You’re not safe.”
The passing of Arizona’s medical marijuana law isn’t helping the situation, Eliason said.
“With the passing of Prop. 203, they think it’s OK to smoke marijuana and drive. The scary thing is people think it’s legal, so they think it’s OK.”
Year // Mesa arrests // #w/ drugs // %
2012 // 3,412 // 1,430 // 41.6 %
2011 // 3,292 // 1,358 // 41.2 %
2010 // 2,850 // 1,056 // 37.0%
Source: Mesa Prosecutor’s Office
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