California Drugged Driving Offenses

Historically, drugged driving in California was an offense that was easy to explain to defendants. More often than not, those charged with driving while on drugs had been involved in a car accident and maybe even caused serious injuries. These days, DUI and DWI offenses are zealously prosecuted, even if it is unclear whether or not the defendant was intoxicated at the time of their arrest. Law enforcement is adjusting to technological advances and is using new tools to help determine whether someone took drugs and are using this information to help obtain convictions for driving under the influence of drugs (DUID).


Although this may seem like progress, there are numerous situations in which authorities wrongfully charge drivers with driving under the influence of drugs when it is not warranted. Some may say that these are casualties of an overall effective campaign, but I beg to differ. If law-abiding citizens are convicted of misdemeanor or felony drugged driving offenses they could have trouble with future employment or lose their current job, not to mention the hefty fines, penalties, classes, and potential jail time they could receive for their offense.


So how does California law determine whether or not someone was DUID at the time of their arrest? Truth is, there are conflicting points of view (mostly between DUID defense attorneys and prosecutors) that have not been resolved. I highly encourage anyone facing California DUID charges to obtain a free case evaluation from an attorney they trust to help evaluate your personal circumstance. Until then, the following information could be used to provide a general understanding of California’s laws concerning driving while on drugs.


Drugged Driving Law


Those arrested under suspicion of driving while under the influence of drugs in California are charged with violating California Vehicle Code 23152(a). VC 23152(a) can be charged whether the defendant was believed to be under the influence of alcohol or drugs.


“Drugs” According to California Law


According to California law, “drugs” are considered to be any substance that is not alcohol that has the ability to affect your brain, muscles, and/or central nervous system. A person is believed to be driving while under the influence of drugs if the substance impairs that person’s ability to drive like a sober person if they were to be in the same situation.


Narcotics That Commonly Result in DUID


When California police officers believe that a driver may be under the influence, but they do not know what it is, they will often require the driver to submit to a blood test. Although driving under the influence of any drug is illegal, it would be hard to prove without any reliable evidence. Since there are some drugs that are not detectable by blood or breathalyzer, the use of those drugs before driving will rarely result in a DUID arrest.


The following are drugs that are more commonly associated with DUID cases:




  • First established in the fifties, PCP is also known as Phencyclidine, as well as Angel Dust, Super Grass or Rocket Fuel. It’s role in medicine is for use as an anesthesia. However, modern medicine only reserves this drug for animal treatments. PCP is very potent given that it can last for more than two days and can also kick in within minutes of use.




  • Unlike other controlled substances described above, meth acts as a stimulant that speeds up body functions and organs. Other names include meth, crystal meth, ice, speed and more. It is used medically as a popular treatment for ADHD and obesity.




  • Having trouble sleeping? Then you’re more likely to receive an Ambien prescription, which is used for its sleep inducing or sedative properties. Many cases have been reported about Ambien’s sleep walking or sleep driving side effects. If a driver is caught even in a state of unconsciousness, he or she can be charged with DUID.




  • Marijuana walks a thin line between legal and illegal use. This is because it’s now legal to use with a valid prescription for medical purposes. If you’re caught under the influence while driving and without a prescription, DUID penalties above will apply.




  • Codeine is a popular prescription medication. It’s pain relieving and sedation qualities have turned this drug into one that’s often abused. Even though an ill patient may be given a prescription to take codeine, it’s still illegal to drive and use codeine at the same time due to the risk of impairment.




  • Heroin was first established in 1898 by Bayer. It was quickly pulled from use in medicine due to the devastating consequences of addiction. The name “junkie” was coined when patients who became hooked sold their scrap metals to satisfy this dependence. Other known street names include H- horse, A bomb, black tar or smack, and currently there’s no medical use for heroin.




  • Hydrocodone is a type of analgesic that makes those who ingest it lethargic. As a result, the medication can cause severe impairment while driving, and also risk public safety. When taken in small doses however, it usually does not have these powerful effects, and a legal team can use this argument as a valid defense for DUID. Another name for this drug is Vicodin.


How Officers Test For Impairment


Unlike alcohol, there is no easily available hand-held device that allows authorities to test those who are believed to be under the influence of drugs. This makes things substantially more difficult to prove that a person is driving drugged by using traditional tests.


More often than not, authorities will call in a drug recognition expert (DRE) to help determine whether or not the suspect is under the influence of narcotics. A DRE is a police officer with special training that helps them determine intoxication.


Once a DRE arrives on scene, they conduct an evaluation. The DRE will check if you have any blood alcohol content, check your pulse rate, conduct an eye exam to determine whether your eyes jerk (common symptom of intoxication), administer a field sobriety test, investigate your pupils, evaluate your muscle tone, see if they can identify injection sites, question you, and ask you to submit to a chemical test using your blood.


Penalties for a Conviction


Driving while under the influence of drugs can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony criminal offense. Which one you will be charged with largely depends upon your specific case circumstances and whether or not you have committed any previous offenses.


The following penalties are common for someone who is convicted for the first time:


–          Up to five years of DUI probation


–          Around $2,000.00 in fines


–          Mandatory attendance at a California DUI school


–          Suspension of your driver’s license


–          Time in jail


What If I Didn’t Mean to Drive While Intoxicated?


This is an interesting concept that was challenged by Kerry Kennedy, John F. Kennedy’s niece, after she was charged with DUI in July of 2012. Although Kennedy testified that she took 10 milligrams of Ambien, got into her car, drove erratically, and eventually sideswiped a tractor trailer, she was still able to receive an acquittal for her drugged driving charge.


How did she get away with it? Well, her DUID defense attorney was able to convince the jury that Kennedy took the pills on accident. According to Kennedy’s testimony, she grabbed the wrong pills on the morning of her accident.


Although Kennedy was able to use this defense successfully, she was very lucky. An experienced drugged driving defense lawyer will be able to evaluate your case and see what flaws they can expose.


California DUID Defense Lawyers


If you are facing charges for driving while under the influence of drugs, speaking with a skilled attorney is in your best interest. Without in-depth knowledge of California’s case law, you will be at a disadvantage. Call (888) 250-2865 today to reach one of our skilled DUI defense attorneys for a free case evaluation.

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