Manslaughter case against marijuana smoker to move forward

2013-02-21T16:03:00Z 2013-02-21T16:17:37Z Manslaughter case against marijuana smoker to move forwardKim Smith Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
February 21, 2013 4:03 pm  • 

Judge Howard Hantman has decided prosecutors have not violated the rights of a woman charged with killing a teen in a DUI-related crash.

Joan Laidlaw, 41, was driving a Chevy Blazer on Oct. 12 when she lost control. The Chevy hit a berm, rolled and landed on Armando Hernandez, who was thrown from the back seat. The 18-year-old died.

Grand jurors were told Laidlaw admitted to investigators she regularly smokes marijuana, she smoked it that day and marijuana and a pipe were found in her purse. They were also told her tongue was green (which is apparently typical for pot smokers.)

Grand jurors were also told blood tests showed marijuana was in Laidlaw's system.

Defense attorney Jeff Rogers recently argued he believes prosecutor Jennifer Copenhaver-Celi misled jurors into believing Laidlaw was impaired by the marijuana and drove recklessly as a result. He argued for the case to be taken back to the grand jury.

Rogers wanted grand jurors to know the marijuana was found in Laidlaw's urine and that urine shows past use of marijuana, not necessarily current use.

In addition, he wanted them to know Laidlaw smoked the marijuana that morning and the crash was at 10 p.m.

In order for Laidlaw to be indicted for manslaughter, the state needs to be able to prove the marijuana resulted in her reckless behavior, Rogers said. 

Driving through a stop sign in the pitch black is not reckless behavior in and of itself, Rogers said.

In his written ruling, Judge Hantman said drivers can be reckless without the use of drugs and alcohol and the fact "the defendant did not perform poorly on field sobriety tests is not such a weight to deter a finding of probable cause."

Judge Hantman also said that although the prosecutor mistakenly said THC was found in Laidlaw's blood instead of in her urine, it didn't really make a difference.

If the grand jury had been told the blood test showed Laidlaw had used marijuana minutes before the crash, that would've been highly prejudicial, Judge Hantman said.

However, the grand jurors were told it was in the blood hours after the crash and that just merely confirmed what they already knew -- Laidlaw had admittedly smoked marijuana that day, Hantman said.

In addition to manslaughter, Laidlaw was indicted on two aggravated assault charges, possession of marijuana, possession of drug paraphernalia and two counts of DUI.

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