California Prescription Drug DUI Law
One type of DUI that police have noted to be one the rise in recent years is prescription drug DUI. Some people think that DUI law only applies to alcohol and illegal drugs. The truth is that a person can be accused of DUI for driving under the influence of prescription drugs that are legally prescribed and medically necessary. California law considers a drug to be anything other than alcohol that can impair a reasonable person's ability to drive. Some prescription drugs that can commonly lead to DUI charges include:
Any other prescription drug that results in drowsiness, weakness or fatigue, impaired coordination, impaired judgment, sleep driving or any similar side effect can also be determined as the cause of a DUI, even if it was legally prescribed to the driver and they had never experienced such side effects.
Under California Vehicle Code, Section 23152 (e) and (f) it is illegal for a person to drive a vehicle under the influence of a drug or under the combined influence of drugs and alcohol. One such drug is any type of prescription drug that has side effects that could affect a person's ability to drive.
California Vehicle Code, section 23153 (e) and (f) also relate to drug offenses. Under these subsections, it is a crime to operate a vehicle while under the influence of an intoxicating drug or combination of drugs and alcohol and cause an accident that leads to the injury of another person. In order to be charged with this crime, three things must be present:
- The driver was under the influence of a drug
- The driver made another driving error or neglected a duty while driving – this is most often an accident because, as stated below, it must lead to the injury of another person.
- This error directly lead to another person being seriously injured
California Prescription Drug DUI Penalties
The penalties for prescription drug related DUI, can include the following: For a first time DUI offender:
- Jail time of at least 96 hours but not more than 6 months
- A fine of at least $390 but not more than $1,000
- 6 months of license suspension
- 30 to 60 hours of drug education (30 hours if your BAC was less than .20% and 60 hours if it was over)
- Up to three years of informal probation
For a misdemeanor DUI that involved injury:
- Jail time of at least 5 days but not more than 1 year
- A fine of at least $390 but not more than $5,000
- 1 to 3 years of license suspension
- 3 months to 30 months of drug education
- Three to five years of informal probation
Testing for Prescription Drug DUI
When it comes to prescription drug related offenses, proving impairment can be more difficult than alcohol. There are a number of reasons for this including how law enforcement recognize prescription drug impaired suspects and how prescription drugs are chemically tested.
First, officers cannot evaluate suspects for prescription drugs impairment like they can for alcohol. Most California law enforcement agents are not properly trained to determine whether a DUI suspect is under the influence of drugs. The most scientific standardized field sobriety test, the horizontal gaze nystagmus test, does not detect prescription drug impairment. Only specially trained agents called drug recognition experts (DREs) are able to evaluate a suspect's appearance and give a trained opinion as to whether they appear to be intoxicated. If one of these experts cannot be brought to the scene of a DUI investigation, the officers can only collect evidence from recording the performance of the other two standardized field tests and looking for obvious signs of impairment such as slurred speech or droopy eye lids.
Second, the chemical sobriety tests that evaluate for drugs are not as scientifically accurate as they are for alcohol. While these tests do determine whether or not the suspect had been using drugs, most cannot tell when the drugs were consumed or at what levels. Some of the drug tests will only read positive or negative for drugs. Drugs can stay in a person's system a lot longer than alcohol.
California Prescription DUI Defense Lawyer
Because drug tests are not that informative, a DUI defense attorney has a lot of options when challenging the evidence against you. For many cases doubt can be established by arguing that the drugs were consumed at an earlier time and the effects had worn off well before you were arrested. There is no way to prove when the drugs were actually consumed or what effect they really had on a suspect. Juries will not convict if they believe there is a reasonable doubt that the suspect was not intoxicated.
If you have been arrested for suspicion of prescription drug DUI, call our office right away. We offer free consultations to all of our potential DUI clients.