DUI offenses cover not only alcohol-related driving. Most states, including California, have DUI laws that refer to prescription drugs and other prohibited narcotics. The prohibition applies as well to over-the-counter medicines which may contain alcohol, and often contain warnings about operating heavy equipment.
Certain types of medication such as anti-allergy drugs, pain relievers, anti-depressants, heart medication, ophthalmic, and hormones can affect a person’s driving ability by making the patient sleepy, drowsy, disturb the ability to focus, or see clearly. The list is long and can include drugs for the treatment of ordinary medical conditions such as:
- Psychological disorders
- Hypertension or high-blood pressure
- Heart disease
- Respiratory diseases
- Gastrointestinal ailments
In California, Vehicle Code Section 23152 currently prohibits any person “who is under the influence of any drug to drive a vehicle”. The same prohibition applies to anyone who is under the combined influence of any alcoholic beverage and drug.
Drug side effects, however, cannot be predicted with accuracy. Tests and studies typically report a range of percentages of test subjects who exhibit impairment after using specific medicines. Thus, unlike alcohol-related DUI, the law does not specify any minimum drug concentration in the blood stream for conviction.
Any prosecution for drug related DUI must therefore be able to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant was driving while drug-impaired. If you are charged with drug-related DUI, you are entitled to certain defenses depending on the circumstances surrounding your arrest.
No Clear Correlation Between Drug Concentration and Driving Impairment
While alcohol-related DUI may be established through blood tests that register a minimum quantity of alcohol in the blood stream, no such standard currently exists for prescription drugs. Assuming that a driver tested positive for prescription drugs during a blood test, the mere presence of a drug does not automatically prove that a driver was impaired while driving.
Similarly, the presence of a prohibited substance such as cocaine in the blood stream cannot be associated with a degree of impairment for a specific individual. Factors such as drug tolerance can lead to differences in every person’s performance. Studies even show that single low doses of cocaine can improve a person’s driving performance, especially for the sleep-deprived or fatigued.
Varying Drug Effects
The behavioral effects of prescription drugs vary widely, depending on the medication involved and the person taking it. Some patients may have a higher tolerance for certain drugs and can go on with their daily activities without any visible impairment. Some may not experience any behavioral effect despite taking prescribed medicines.
Difficulty Establishing Time of Taking
Traces of drugs can stay in a person’s system for up to 30 days, resulting in positive drug test results. Because medication can remain in the bloodstream for days or weeks, it can be difficult to ascertain whether a driver took a prescribed drug shortly before driving, raising a doubt as to impairment.
Penalties for Drug-Related DUI
Driving under the influence of a drug may be punished as a misdemeanor or as a felony. As a misdemeanor, the penalties can vary depending on the number of prior DUI convictions that a defendant may have had before the current charge.
DUI penalties typically include:
- Jail time
- Steep fines
- Driving license suspension or revocation
- Completion of a court-approved drug treatment program
A DUI conviction can also have lasting effects beyond criminal penalties provided by law. A criminal conviction for drug-related DUI must be disclosed in school, job, and housing applications, significantly affecting your chances of obtaining quality employment, housing, and a good education.
Other DUI Defenses
If you are charged with drug-related DUI, in addition to chemical defenses mentioned previously, it is possible to raise constitutional and procedural defenses against a conviction.
Illegal Blood Draw
A drug test conducted on blood samples that were drawn without the defendant’s consent is a violation of the constitutional right against warrantless searches and seizures.
Lack of Probable Cause
An arrest made even when the defendant did not exhibit visible signs of impairment may be attacked for lack of probable cause.
Reliability of Testing Equipment and Lack of Authority to Conduct Test
Under California criminal statutes, only certain persons are authorized to draw blood samples and conduct blood tests for the presence of drugs in the defendant’s blood stream. Testing equipment must also undergo regular maintenance and calibration to ensure accuracy of test results.
Importance of Drug DUI Defense Attorney
Pleading guilty to a drug DUI charge is not to your best interests. You can raise appropriate defenses, but you will need an experienced DUI attorney to represent you before law enforcers and prosecutors, and to argue your case before a jury.
In Beverly Hills, Pasadena, San Fernando, Van Nuys, and throughout Southern California, the law firm of Gurovich, Berk & Associates, APC are dedicated to drug related DUI crimes. Our Firm is backed by years of proven experience, helping our clients by having charges dismissed or reducing penalties.
If you are charged with drug related DUI, we invite you to call us now at (213) 385-1555.