DUI with Drugs
DUI Defense Attorneys in Santa Barbara, CA
California Vehicle Code § 23152(a) states that it is unlawful to operate a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol, drugs or the combination of both substances. The laws that govern DUI-with-drugs offenses (drugged driving) are comparable to the laws that regulate standard drunk driving. However, drugged driving cases can be more complicated because law enforcement has not developed a method to accurately gauge drug impairment.
The Drugged Driving Problem in California
California law specifically states that it is illegal to operate a motor vehicle with a BAC that exceeds .08%. Law enforcement uses blood testing, breath testing, and field sobriety testing to determine the driver's BAC level. However, drug tests are less precise. In fact, law enforcement has not developed an absolute method to determine a driver's level of drug impairment. Unlike alcohol, drugs remain in the user's bloodstream long after the effects wear off. For example, marijuana is detectable in the bloodstream for two weeks after use, while the effects of marijuana only last for several hours. Thus, blood testing could indicate drug use when the driver did not drive under the influence.
Some states adopted "zero tolerance" drug laws to fix this problem. In California, drugged driving is a gray area – even though the California Office of Traffic Safety indicated that drugged driving could be more common than driving under the influence of alcohol. According to a report issued in January, 2013, some counties in California spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on drugged driving prosecution and prevention every year. The report also indicated that about 90% of California drug-only DUIs ended with a criminal conviction in 2012; a surprisingly high number considering that the techniques used to measure drug impairment are not as advanced BAC testing.
Drugged Driving Investigation Techniques
Most drug-related DUI cases begin when an officer notices signs of impairment but cannot verify that the driver is drunk. If law enforcement suspects that a driver is under the influence of drugs, a drug recognition expert (DRE) will help police determine whether or not the driver is under the influence of a controlled substance. DREs are law enforcement officers with a special understanding of drug impairment. Once the DRE arrives, he/she will conduct an investigation to decide if the driver is under the influence of a controlled substance.
First, the DRE will verify that the driver is not impaired by alcohol. Then, the DRE will check the driver's pulse rate and pupils for physical signs of drug or alcohol impairment. This includes a horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN) sobriety test. The HGN test was developed to identify alcohol impairment, but can show drug impairment as well. The DRE may re-administer the other field sobriety tests as well, such as the "walk and turn," "finger to nose," "Romberg balance," and "one leg stand," tests.
The DRE will check the driver's nose and mouth for indications of drug ingestion and check for physical signs of drug injection. Throughout the investigation, the DRE will continue to monitor the driver's pulse and observe his behavior. Drug impairment investigations are most accurate when law enforcement conducts them in a controlled environment, such as a police station. If the DRE completes the investigation and decides that the driver is impaired, he/she will request a chemical test to identify the drug.
California Drugged Driving Penalties
Drugged driving is usually a misdemeanor offense, but the court may charge it as a felony under certain circumstances. Drugged driving may be charged as a felony if your criminal record reflects three or more DUI convictions; you were convicted of felony DUI in the past; or the DUI involved an injury. Your first DUI can result in:
- Five years of probation
- Six months in jail
- A $1,000 fine
- A DUI education program
After your first conviction, successive offenses within ten years will result in heightened penalties. Your second DUI (without injury or aggravating circumstances) can result in up to one year of incarceration, a $1,000 fine, two years of driver's license suspension, and a DUI educational program. A third offense is punishable by one year in jail, a $1,000 fine, three years of driver's license suspension, a mandatory ignition interlock device, and a DUI education program. The driver could be labeled a "repeat offender" after a third DUI conviction.