Written by attorney Nors Elwood Davidson

DUI Drug Arrests and California Law

DUI arrests are not limited to driving under the influence of alcohol; they can include both legal and illegal drugs as well. Driving under the influence of drug (DUID) arrests can lead to both criminal and administrative consequences.

Under California law, it is illegal to operate a motor vehicle when the driver is impaired by alcohol, medication or illegal drugs. The law goes on to define drugs as any type of substance other than alcohol that can affect a person’s nervous system, brain or muscles. A person is guilty of violating this law when they operate a motor vehicle while under the influence of a drug or combination of drugs that impair their ability to operate a motor vehicle. Any substance that causes dizziness, drowsiness, blurred vision, or hallucinations could fall under this category.

In today’s heavily medicated society, drivers have to be aware of the side effects of various medications, both prescription and over-the-counter and how they can affect one’s driving abilities. Whether a person is driving under the influence of PCP, nitrous oxide, marijuana, vicodin or an antihistamine such as Benadryl, their mental and physical capacities may be impaired, thus affecting their ability to operate a motor vehicle.

The law doesn’t distinguish between legal and illegal substances when it comes to DUI drug arrests. As long as the drug impairs a driver’s motor and cognitive abilities they can be arrested for driving under the influence of drugs.

Unlike drinking and driving, in which a person is not allowed to drive with a BAC of .08% or greater, there is no standard of measurement for a DUI drug arrest. Instead of blowing into a breathalyzer to register blood alcohol concentration, the driver is subjected to a roadside investigation by a drug recognition expert, otherwise known as a “DRE." These drug recognition experts have specialized training in methods involving the identification of drug impairment and how people manifest being under the influence of drugs.

A DUID can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony in the state of California. In most cases they will be charged as a misdemeanor except under aggravating circumstances. Situations that will result in a felony charge are instances in which the driver caused an accident with bodily injury, it was the driver’s fourth DUI offense or the driver had prior felony DUI convictions.

DUIDs are prosecuted in the same manner as a standard DUI and the penalties are the same. It will result in both administrative and criminal consequences upon conviction. The penalties for an average DUID could include the following: three to five years probation, up to $1,800 in fines, California DUI school, driver’s license suspension and possibly jail depending on whether or not there were aggravating circumstances or a prior criminal record relating to DUI.

When an officer suspects that a person is driving under the influence of drugs, he or she will order a blood test to determine if and what kinds of drugs are in the blood stream. They order blood tests because the presence of drugs in the system cannot be detected by a breath test. There will also be times when an officer will administer a urine test in order to detect if there are any drugs in the driver’s system at the time of the traffic stop. Both blood and urine tests perform the same function for law enforcement and both can effectively detect the presence of drugs in the body.

Driving while under the influence of drugs is a complex legal issue due to the fact that impaired driving certainly poses a significant risk to other drivers and passengers on the road. However, there is limited scientific research available that distinguishes the exact patterns and influences that medications and drugs have on a person’s driving ability. This research is still in the development stages and may one day be more clearly defined. Until that day comes, it is crucial that anyone arrested for DUI drugs have a skilled and knowledgeable criminal defense attorney by their side if they want to avoid a conviction.

A person can be convicted for DUI drugs even if they were driving after using a legal substance or a prescribed medication. It will be essential to have an experienced attorney to cross-examine any witness testimony or information provided by the law enforcement officer or DRE. In some cases, the information provided may be subjective and not based on substantial evidence. Where a blood or urine test can show the presence of a particular drug in your system, it may not be enough to prove that you had enough of the drug in your system to physically impair your driving ability. Regardless of the circumstances of your arrest, hiring your own attorney could make or break your case. You are urged to take a minute to contact a criminal defense lawyer if you want to have the best chances of overcoming the charges you face.

Additional resources provided by the author

The Law Offices of Nors Davidson is a unique law firm that specializes in defending drivers who have been arrested for DUI and DUID in the San Francisco area. If you or a loved one were arrested for DUI, you can rest easy knowing that your case will be handled by a legal team that specializes in DUI defense. They know the ins and the outs of the legal system and how DUI stops, arrests and evidence can be scrutinized and challenged. Should you choose their firm, they will utilize the same proven tactics for your case that have helped others in the past. If you would like to find out more about your legal options and defenses to DUI, contact a San Francisco DUI lawyer from the firm for an initial consultation at (415) 956-1294.

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