Being under the influence of bath salts and driving a vehicle can lead to criminal charges, a DUI expert said.
Bath salts, when ingested, snorted, injected or smoked alters perception and behavior, as seen by the recent wave of arrests in the region. When that happens, bath salts is classified as a drug under state law, said George Geisler, law enforcement services director for the PA DUI Association in Harrisburg.
Geisler said the definition of “drug” under state law is lengthy, but he pointed to a three-sentence paragraph that designates bath salts as an illegal substance when driving.
“It is any substance other than food intended to affect the structure or any function of the human body,” Geisler said.
Geisler said Wilkes-Barre police had legal authority to charge a Lackawanna County woman with driving under the influence of bath salts on Monday. He said an appellate court opinion of a York County case in 2006 supports DUI charges against drivers whose ability to safely operate a vehicle has been altered by a foreign substance.
City police charged Michele Pace, 39, with driving under the influence of a controlled substance and endangering people during a pursuit that ended in a driveway on George Avenue.
Police alleged Pace admitted taking bath salts earlier that day.
Several defense lawyers questioned the charge against Pace because bath salts is not listed under the controlled substance list. One lawyer suggested the DUI law may have to be amended to include bath salts.
Geisler said there is no need for the DUI law to be revised. The law covers any substance classified as a drug, including huffing gasoline or hairspray.
He noted the state Superior Court affirmed the conviction of a York County man who was found guilty by a jury of driving under the influence of gasoline and bug and tar remover. The man had ingested the gasoline and bug and tar remover in a suicide attempt, according to the appellate court’s ruling.
Instead, the appellate court deemed the gasoline and bug and tar remover as a “drug” because it affected the man’s ability to safely operate a vehicle.
“These bath salts has taken everyone by storm,” Geisler said. “It has taken law enforcement and prosecutors by surprise. It started in different parts of the country about six months ago and hit here in Pennsylvania about three or four months ago.”
By Edward Lewis
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