Driving under the influence of drugs under California is a more common criminal charge than one might think. As it appears that California is on the verge of legalizing recreational use of marijuana much like Colorado and Washington, there may be an increase in arrests for driving under the influence of drugs especially when someone is stopped with marijuana in his possession or plainly seen near the driver’s side of a car, which can be a common occurrence no matter where you live but especially in large urban areas like Los Angeles. Much like a DUI charge, being arrested and convicted of driving under the influence of drugs can carry significant penalties including jail or prison time, costly fines and lengthy driver’s license suspensions. As discussed below, there are many defenses to combat a charge of DUI involving drugs but a person arrested for such a crime in California whether it be in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside or any other county in California should always consult and/or retain an experienced criminal defense attorney to understand your rights and best defend against the criminal charges.
DUI Involving Drugs
Under California Vehicle Code section 23152(a) a person commits an offense of DUI if they are found to be driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. To be convicted based on driving while on drugs, the prosecutor must show beyond a reasonable doubt that a substance or combination of substances impaired a person’s driving to an “appreciable degree.” It must also be proved that the driver was in fact impaired by the drug in question. If an arrest of driving under the influence involves marijuana or any drug for that matter, an experienced DUI attorney will almost certainly hire and/or work with an expert toxicologist to testify about the effects of marijuana and the specific effect it had on the driver at the time of the arrest. Many experts will testify that one cannot come to a conclusion that a person was impaired by marijuana at the time of driving absent other objective symptoms such as the results of a field sobriety test.
In many cases, persons are charged with driving under the influence while on prescription or over the counter drugs. Many believe that because a drug was prescribed that they are entitled to drive while using the prescription drug. However, California Vehicle Code section 23630 provides that using a prescription drug is no defense to a charge of driving under the influence of drugs. Again, if charged with such a crime, a person should consult with an experienced criminal defense lawyer who will usually work with an expert who can determine whether a prescription or over the counter drug actually impaired a person’s ability to drive at the time the person is allegedly observed driving under the influence.
Challenging Marijuana Tests in a California DUI Case
As indicated above, a seasoned criminal defense attorney will normally work with and/or hire a qualified expert to testify and/or assist in the defense of a person charged with driving under the influence of drugs. In challenging a DUI case involving marijuana, a defense attorney will usually present evidence through an expert that it is difficult to establish a correlation between a person’s THC blood level and person’s ability to drive. Generally, persons have been found to be impaired by marijuana while driving where a person has consumed marijuana within three-to-six hours of a blood test. However, a frequent or chronic user of marijuana may have a higher concentration of marijuana in his or her blood up to 12 hours after use. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (“NHTSA”) has indicated that it is difficult to predict marijuana effects on driving based on a blood THC concentration test alone which is information that a criminal defense attorney would use with an expert at trial.
When a person is subjected to a urine test for marijuana after driving, many experienced DUI attorneys can challenge the viability of such a test in determining whether a person was impaired by marijuana while driving. With respect to urine tests, the NHTSA has also advised that a finding of THC in urine only indicates past THC exposure and that determining the effects of marijuana based on finding THC in a person’s urine alone is not persuasive in proving a California Vehicle Code section 23152(a) charge since the time of detecting the THC is past the usual window of impairment and intoxication.
The need for an experienced DUI Attorney When Facing Charges of Driving Under the Influence of Drugs:
Although it can be very scary facing criminal charges for driving under the influence of drugs including marijuana, a person should immediately consult with a DUI attorney after an arrest to explore all possible defense to such criminal charges. Often times, a case that looks hard to defend can present viable legal defenses when review by a criminal defense attorney that may lead to a reduction of charges and/or the dismissal of a DUI charge. Lawyer familiar with the court systems of Southern California including Los Angeles, Orange County and the Inland Empire, know the system and how best to use the criminal procedures and rights of the individual as defenses to such charges.