Although most people think that the charge of Driving Under the Influence (DUI) only applies to alcohol, the truth is that any substance that can impair a person’s ability to operate a motor vehicle can lead to a charge of Driving Under the Influence. Our Orange County Criminal Lawyers know that the Vehicle Code contains sections for two drug-related driving under the influence charges, Vehicle Code § 23152(e), which is driving under the influence of a controlled substance, including prescription medications and any type of drug that is regulated by the government, and Vehicle Code § 23152(f), driving under the combined influence of alcohol and drugs. What distinguishes these two charges from a typical DUI charge is that Vehicle Code § 23152(b), the "per se" charge, is violated if the person is over 0.08% whether or not the individual was impaired. Therefore, just having the requisite blood alcohol content means an individual is per se under the influence. The charge of Vehicle Code § 23152(a), driving under the influence, is violated even if you are below the legal limit established. This means that a person could be charged with a violation of § 23152(a) even if they were below the legal limit or under the influence of any other substance which would impair their ability to drive a motor vehicle safely. Where the charge of DUI-Drugs is concerned, Vehicle Code § 23152(e), drugs alone, and Vehicle Code § 23152(f), a combination of drugs and alcohol, apply. While a person may have been lawfully prescribed a drug by their doctor, their driving could still be impaired by the drug. This section accounts for this factual scenario.
For a DUI conviction based in whole or part on drugs, the drug must be a substance or a combination of substances, other than alcohol, that can impair driving to a significant degree. This includes prescription and non-prescription drugs, both legal and illegal. Even if a person is taking medication prescribed by their doctor and using the prescribed dosage, it is still possible for the medication to impair the person’s ability to safely operate a motor vehicle.
The main issue in most driving under the influence of drug cases is whether the person is "under the influence" which would require the person to, “be unable to operate a vehicle with the same caution characteristic of a sober person, of ordinary prudence, under the same or similar circumstances." This would mean that a person must exhibit signs that that they are unable to safely drive their vehicle in the same way a “sober” person would. While a person may feel they are “okay” to drive, that is not the legal standard that is applied. Additionally, drugs themselves can cause a person to feel overconfident in their abilities, thereby creating a situation where a person feels they are “okay” to drive when they are not.
Since there is no way of immediately determining who is under the influence of drugs, Police agencies and prosecutors rely heavily on Drug Recognition Experts, or DREs, to investigate driving under the influence of drug cases. DREs use a variety of test and observations to show impairment, including checking pupil size, pulse rate, blood pressure, and other physiological indicators. It should be noted that Drug Recognition Experts are not doctors nor do they have any significant medical training. Due to their lack of training, it would be nearly impossible for a layperson to know the difference between someone suffering from a panic attack or showing signs from drug or substance causing hyperactivity. In jury trials, it is important for an attorney to determine whether the expert is in fact an expert and has applied the correct analysis in rendering their opinion. The lack of training and inability to determine the amount of impairment are both strong defenses for charges of driving under the influence of drugs. Sometimes it is useful for a criminal defense attorney to hire their own expert to provide information to show that the state’s expert was not an expert or incorrectly interpreted the information they relied on in rendering an opinion.
At the Johnson Criminal Law Group, our lawyers are experienced with both the legal and scientific defenses to charges of driving under the influence of drugs. Utilizing our years of experience defending driving under the influence of drugs, we know what works. It is important for those charged with driving under the influence of drugs to contact our offices immediately.