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Benched: Drugs, DUIs, and the Zaon Collins Case

Benched: Drugs, DUIs, and the Zaon Collins Case

University of Nevada, Las Vegas basketball recruit, Zaon Collins, avoided indictment for a felony DUI charge by a grand jury. Collins was involved in a crash that killed 52-year-old Eric Echevarria. Police told the grand jury that marijuana played a significant role in the crash.

So, what is the significance of this case, and how do drugs affect a DUI charge?

The Charges

According to police reports, Collins was not only driving under the influence but was going at least 85 mph in a residential area. The grand jury declined to indict him on the DUI charge, but they voted to sentence him for reckless driving.

DUI cases resulting in a fatality are felonies. If the driver is over the legal limit or under the influence, the court has to determine whether drug use was a proximate cause of the crash. While the jury voted to drop the DUI charge, the district attorney will be proceeding with the original case and dismissing the grand jury's indictment.

What Is Nolle Prosequi?

The phrase nolle prosequi means "will no longer prosecute" in Latin. When prosecutors invoke nolle prosequi, some or all of the charges in a case may be dropped.

The prosecution may dismiss charges for many reasons, including:

  • Reevaluation of evidence
  • New evidence
  • To give the defendant a second chance
  • The witnesses fail to cooperate

In the context of the Zaon Collins case, the prosecutor may have invoked nolle prosequi due to the evidence that supports the DUI charge. In doing so, it will be as though the charges were never filed. That's not to say that Collins is acquitted, but rather the prosecutor will drop the felony reckless driving indictment in favor of the felony DUI charges. Prosecutors also use this to avoid double jeopardy, which is when someone goes to trial for the same crime more than once.

Felony DUI Cases

Now that the court will proceed with the felony DUI charge, Collins could face serious penalties.

Felony DUIs can happen if the case meets the following criteria:

  • The accused has two prior DUIs in the past seven years
  • The DUI led to the death or bodily harm of another person
  • The accused was convicted of a felony DUI in the past

Depending on the circumstances, a DUI that results in a fatality could also lead to vehicular manslaughter charges, according to Nevada law.

Most DUIs result in fines, license suspension, and possible jail time. Drivers convicted of a felony-level DUI face up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000.

Collins may also be asked to pay restitution to the Echevarria family as a part of his sentence. So far, Collins has pleaded "not guilty" to the charges against him, but the prosecution may pursue a guilty plea in exchange for less severe penalties.

Do Drugs Elevate a DUI?

For Collins and other cases involving marijuana use, there is the question of whether drug use will elevate the charges. In general, driving under the influence of marijuana has the same penalties as an alcohol-related DUI.

The court evaluates several factors in a DUI case, including:

  • Blood alcohol concentration
  • Field sobriety test performance
  • Unusual behavior
  • Reckless driving

There are also different kinds of DUI charges, including the following:

  • Per se marijuana DUIs: In these cases, the prosecutor will need to have blood test results showing that the driver was over the legal limit. It doesn't matter whether the person's driving ability was affected by marijuana, but rather that they broke the law by exceeding the legal limit for THC.
  • Impairment DUIs: These cases involve proof that marijuana was a primary cause of impaired driving. There must be evidence that the substance had a substantial effect on the driver.

Key Takeaways

Drugs don't elevate a DUI, but some DUI charges rely exclusively on the blood alcohol concentration instead of the level of impairment. In the Collins case, he could be facing a lengthy prison sentence and hefty fines if he is convicted for a felony-level DUI.

There's no guaranteed result for the Collins case, but Collins might not have much room to negotiate with the court for a shorter sentence if the prosecution proceeds with the case as planned. His defenders have their work cut out for them as the case moves forward.

Our lawyers have over 25 years of combined experience with DUI cases. Contact The Draskovich Law Group for more information.


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