Driving under the influence of drugs (lawfully or illegally obtained drugs)
The substance that the driver consumed before getting behind the wheel can drastically influence the nature of the case and its outcome. For example, drug use is treated differently, and often more harshly, than just the consumption of alcohol and operation of motor vehicles.
"Drugs" include both lawful and illegal drugs. Lawful drugs may be over the counter or prescription based. Please note that you may be charged with driving under the influence of a prescription or otherwise legal medicine. Many of the legal drugs, whether they are sold over the counter or require a prescription, come with the warning that a person should not operate a motor vehicle within a certain amount of time after ingesting them.
Illegal drugs include marijuana and "controlled substances," such as cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin, and ecstasy. The punishment for these crimes is potentially severe. Normally, a person under the influence of a "controlled substance" may be eligible for relief from criminal charges by going through deferred entry of judgment, which entails the attendance of drug awareness classes. The advantage of deferred entry of judgment is that upon successful completion of the classes, the case is dismissed and no conviction for the drug charge will be on the person's record.
Charges for drug and non drug crimes
However, if the person is charged with both a drug and non drug crime, the non drug charge or charges render the person ineligible for drug classes. Although driving under the influence cases may have a drug use component, courts interpreting these statutes have ruled that a driver is ineligible for the relief offered by deferred entry of judgment (dismissal, no conviction on record).
Alcohol related consequences
Instead, the person charged with driving under the influence of a controlled substance faces the double whammy of both alcohol and drug related consequences. The alcohol related consequences are better known to the general public. To recap, however, the licensee as to alcohol punishment faces probation, a fine, mandatory jail time and/or alternative custody, an alcohol school, potentially the installation of an interlock device, and at least a four month license suspension.
Drug related consequences
Conviction of a drug related offense is far more intrusion. A drug conviction carries such requirements as search terms (the police may stop and search you or your vehicle, as well as enter your home, without any reason), registration as a narcotics offender, and testing terms (the police, without any reason, may make you provide a blood or urine test for the detection of drugs). By far, the worst consequence though, for a driving under the influence of a controlled substance is the ninety day mandatory minimum jail sentence that could not be avoided through deferred entry of judgment and drug classes.
Driving while having marijuana in one's blood
Some jurisdictions are zealously prosecuting persons arrested for driving after having smoked marijuana. The fact of using marijuana by itself, or with alcohol or other drugs, may dramatically impact the outcome of your DUI case. Studies have consistently shown that smoking a small amount of marijuana before driving does not impair the driver. However, smoking marijuana and consuming alcohol or other drugs as well may cause synergistic effects (the combination may enhance the effects of each to impair the driver even more).
Testing the presence of marijuana
Typically, if a police officer suspects a driver of having smoked marijuana, the officer may lawfully insist that the driver submit to a blood or urine test. Blood or urine tests may detect and also quantify (set an amount) marijuana and/or other substances. Obviously, if other substances are detected and quantified in addition to the marijuana, the case is much more problematic. If other drugs are detected, as discussed in the section devoted to legal and illegal drugs, additional consequences may ensue.
Fighting a marijuana driving under the influence case
The goal in marijuana driving under the influence cases is, as elsewhere, dismissal or reduction of charges. If the case is not dismissed outright, reduction of charges to something other than an alcohol related offense (to avoid future enhancement via this offense being considered a prior offense). The best reductions include 647(f) of the Penal Code (public intoxication) or 23103 of the Vehicle Code ("dry reckless," non alcohol related).
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