Driving Under the Influence of Drugs in California
When most people hear the phrase “driving under the influence,” they immediately think of driving under the influence of alcohol. However, alcohol intoxication is not the only way a person can be charged with driving under the influence. California Vehicle Code Section 23152(a) says, “It is unlawful for any person who is under the influence of any alcoholic beverage or drug, or under the combined influence of any alcoholic beverage and drug, to drive a vehicle” (emphasis added).
Driving under the influence of drugs (commonly abbreviated DUID) can be a difficult charge for prosecutors to prove because unlike driving under the influence of alcohol, there is no specific amount of drugs in your bloodstream that constitutes DUI per se. Rather, the prosecutor must show that the drugs in your system actually impaired your ability to drive.
Do I Have to Take Illegal Drugs to Be Charged With DUI?
The law is open-ended regarding what can be considered a drug for DUI purposes. Section 312 of the California Vehicle Code says, “The term ‘drug’ means any substance or combination of substances, other than alcohol, which could so affect the nervous system, brain, or muscles of a person as to impair, to an appreciable degree, his ability to drive a vehicle in the manner that an ordinarily prudent and cautious man, in full possession of his faculties, using reasonable care, would drive a similar vehicle under like conditions.”
This means that not only can you be arrested for driving under the influence of illegal drugs like marijuana and methamphetamine, but also for driving under the influence of over-the-counter drugs or drugs for which you have a valid prescription.
How Can Police Tell If I’m Driving Under the Influence of Drugs?
When police pull over someone for suspicion of driving under the influence, they will typically look for signs of intoxication like slurred speech, inability to understand and follow directions, and poor motor control skills. If a police officer sees you exhibiting one or more of these signs, but a breathalyzer test shows little or no blood alcohol content, driving under the influence of drugs could be suspected.
The arresting officer will usually call a drug recognition expert: a police officer trained in recognizing impairment by drugs other than alcohol. This officer will re-administer any field sobriety tests and check for other signs of drug use, such as pulse rate and pupil size. You may also be required to submit to a blood or urine test that can detect the presence of (but usually not the amount of) certain illegal drugs.
What Are the Penalties for Driving Under the Influence of Drugs?
Driving under the influence of drugs generally has the same penalties as driving under the influence of alcohol. It is a misdemeanor unless you have three or more prior convictions, you have a prior felony DUI conviction, or you cause an accident injuring a third party.
If you are under the influence of certain illegal drugs, you can also be charged with being under the influence (as opposed to driving under the influence) under California Health and Safety Code 11550.
A San Jose DUI Attorney Can Help
Driving under the influence of drugs, like driving under the influence of alcohol is a serious charge that can have severe penalties if you are convicted. An experienced San Jose DUI attorney may be able to help you defend against such a charge by arguing (for example) that you had trace amounts of drugs in your system but that you were not under the influence of those drugs or that certain physical conditions like exhaustion or illness were mistaken as symptoms of drug impairment. If you are not already represented, please fill out the form on this page for a free evaluation of your case.