Many people are surprised to learn that under California Vehicle Code Section 23152(c), it is actually a crime to drive while addicted. This particular statute can be confusing, and many people wonder what driving while addicted actually entails.
Driving While Addicted Statue
The driving while addicted statute is intended to make it illegal to drive a motor vehicle when going through the stages of drug withdrawal for those who are physically dependent on certain narcotics. The legislature has recognized that the effects of drug withdrawal can be seriously debilitating, and those going through the withdrawal process may be so physically incapacitated that they are unable to safely operate a motor vehicle. Under the statute, a drug is defined as a substance or combination of substances, other than alcohol, that affect the nervous system, brains or muscles in such a way that a person's ability to drive in an ordinarily cautious fashion would be impaired. A drug can be a legal substance that is lawfully prescribed to the defendant.
When is Someone Considered Addicted?
A person is considered addicted to a drug if he or she is physically dependent on the drug and would suffer withdrawal symptoms if he or she is deprived of that drug, has developed a tolerance to the drug and requires higher dosages and has become emotionally dependent on that drug and experiences a compulsive need to keep using it.
The statute specifically precludes those who are participating in a narcotic treatment program from being prosecuted for driving while addicted. That means a person who is receiving treatment at a methadone clinic or other similar facility would not be guilty if charged with a DUI offense under California Vehicle Code Section 23152(c).
Not Widely Prosecuted
While driving while addicted is still a crime under the California Vehicle Code, it is not widely prosecuted for a variety of reasons. While it is fairly straightforward to establish whether or not a driver is under the influence of alcohol or drugs through chemical testing, there is no clear-cut method to tell whether or not a driver is a drug addict who is going through withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms may be identical to those experienced by drivers who have a cold or the flu, and it is not illegal to drive while under the weather, even if the driver's physical and mental capacities may be impacted.
What You Should Know if Questioned
A law enforcement officer would have a difficult time establishing that a defendant drove while addicted. Unless the driver admits to being a narcotic addict, a prosecutor may have difficulties in proving the elements of this offense. In addition, prosecutors do not want to punish suspected drug addicts for essentially driving while sober. However, there may be instances where the withdrawal effects are so severe that criminal charges may be deemed absolutely necessary. It is important to keep in mind that while criminal charges for driving while addicted may be rare, law enforcement officers are always vigilant for those driving under the influence of drugs. Most agencies employ officers qualified as Drug Recognition Experts ("DREs") who have received special training in recognizing drug intoxication and are often brought in to assist in situations in which the driver is suspected of being under the influence of a narcotic. Those who test positive for an intoxicating substance, whether or not it is an illegal street drug or a legally prescribed medication, can subsequently be prosecuted for DUI.
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