It is against the law to operate a motor vehicle while under the influence of drugs (DUID). Police officers consider drivers to be “under the influence” when alcohol or drug impairment prevents them from operating their vehicles safely and carefully. For example, they may be under the influence of both drugs and alcohol, or they may be under the influence of any drug whether over-the-counter, prescription or illegal.
Sustaining a conviction for DUID can result in serious criminal penalties, including high monetary fines and jail time. Moreover, you may experience numerous collateral consequences associated with your conviction. The best way to avoid these penalties is to avoid a DUID conviction altogether.
If you are currently facing criminal drug or alcohol charges, always have a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney representing you at every stage of your case. Your lawyer will be by your side advocating for you both in court and while your criminal case is pending in the system. Your lawyer can also represent you at all courtroom proceedings, negotiate a favorable plea deal with the state prosecutor on your behalf, or advance a strong legal defense at your bench or jury trial.
Your lawyer will do everything they can to help you secure the best possible result in your criminal case, whether through a case dismissal or a favorable plea deal with the state prosecutor.
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What Is a Drug Under California Law?
In the context of DUID cases, the term drug has a specific meaning under California law. In essence, a drug is any substance or combination of substances, besides alcohol, that can affect a driver’s muscles, brain, or nervous system and impair their ability to operate a motor vehicle with reasonable care.
Common drugs that can serve as the basis for a DUID arrest include Ambien, prescription opiates like OxyContin, methamphetamines, and marijuana. Drivers can also face an arrest for driving after using substances like cocaine, heroin, and similar street drugs.
However, even when a driver has a prescription medication in their system that affects their muscles, brain, or nervous system and they operate a vehicle they can still face a criminal arrest or charge for DUID.
Legal Limits for a DUID Arrest
When it comes to driving under the influence of alcohol, or DUI, the law establishes very clear legal limits. For example, a passenger vehicle driver is legally intoxicated if a breathalyzer device measures their blood alcohol concentration (BAC) at 0.08 percent or higher. For commercial vehicle drivers, including tractor trailer operators, the legal BAC cut-off is 0.04 percent. For minor drivers under 21 years of age, the BAC cut-off is 0.01 percent.
However, when it comes to drugs, California does not utilize a legal limit, per se. This lack of clarity is because many experts cannot agree on the specific concentration of drugs in a person’s bloodstream necessary to impair their driving abilities.
The law simply indicates that a person may not operate a vehicle while they are “under the influence of drugs,” under the “combined influence of alcohol and drugs,” or while they are addicted to any drug unless they currently receive help through a drug addiction treatment program that has state approval.
For a police officer to arrest an individual for DUID, they must first initiate a proper traffic stop. To initiate the stop, an officer must have at least some reasonable suspicion that the driver is violating a traffic law or regulation on the books. For example, the driver might be speeding, or they may have a tail light out on their vehicle.
A police officer may not engage in unreasonable searches and seizures, like random traffic stops or pulling a vehicle over for no reason at all. If they do and later uncover evidence of DUID, that evidence may be subject to suppression at trial.
During an investigation for DUI or DUID, a police officer may do any of the following within certain limits:
- Ask the driver questions about whether or not they had recently been drinking or using drugs
- Ask the driver to blow into a portable breathalyzer device for alcohol screening
- Ask the driver to perform a field sobriety test
- Look inside the vehicle and see if any drugs, alcohol, or drug paraphernalia are in plain view
- Observe physical symptoms of alcohol or drug intoxication, such as slurred speech or dilated pupils
Moreover, some police officers in California are drug recognition experts (DRE). These police officers have special training in determining whether an individual is under the influence of narcotics. In most cases, a DRE evaluation will occur in a controlled, well-lit area, such as a police station. This allows the officer to observe the driver and form an accurate opinion about whether they are under the influence of drugs at that time.
Some of the most common field sobriety tests that police officers use to determine drug intoxication include the horizontal gaze nystagmus test, balancing tests, and heel-to-toe test. During a horizontal gaze nystagmus test, an officer will typically shine a flashlight into the driver’s eyes and observe the movement of their pupils. If the driver’s pupils jerk back and forth more than usual, this may indicate that they are under the influence of alcohol or drugs at that time.
Similarly, officers may employ several balancing tests, such as asking the driver to stand on one leg. If the driver cannot do this or begins to fall over, they may be under the illegal influence of drugs or alcohol. Finally, the officer may ask the driver to walk heel-to-toe in a straight line on the pavement. If they cannot walk straight, this may indicate that they are impaired.
Placing a Driver under Arrest for DUID
To lawfully arrest a driver for DUID, a police officer must have necessary probable cause. If they arrest the driver, the officer will take the driver into custody however, the officer does not necessarily need to read the driver their Miranda rights immediately.
In fact, in a DUID case, the police officer only needs to Mirandize the individual if they are in police custody and if they want to ask the driver various questions that can elicit an incriminating response. Such questions may include whether or not the driver was “stoned” when they got into the driver’s seat, whether they took drugs that day, the kinds of drugs they took, and the amount they took.
If you are in police custody and a driver begins asking potentially incriminating questions, you should immediately assert your Fifth Amendment right to the presence of legal counsel. At that point, the officer has to stop questioning you immediately. If they do not stop and they elicit an incriminating response from you, that response might be subject to suppression once your case goes to trial.
Moreover, after a police officer arrests an individual for DUI, the officer may give them a choice of taking a blood test or a breath test. If you are under arrest, you may not refuse to take a chemical test under the law. In fact, if you refuse to take one of these tests, the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) will automatically suspend your driver’s license.
Likewise, in certain circumstances, a police officer may require that you take a DUI blood test. This is true even if you already blew into a portable breathalyzer device. A blood test may be required if a police officer believes that it will actually show you to be under the illegal influence of drugs or alcohol and the officer reasonably believes that you were operating your vehicle while under the influence of drugs or while under the combined influence of alcohol and drugs.
If a police officer takes your blood sample, they will send it out for a toxicology screening. A state prosecutor can then use these test results as evidence against you at trial. Although these test results are not conclusive of drug intoxication, a prosecutor might retain an expert witness or call a police officer to testify at trial. The police officer may also testify on the witness stand about their observations of your speech, actions, and mannerisms just before your arrest.
Potential Penalties Upon Conviction
For you to incur penalties for an Alcohol and DUI conviction, the state prosecutor handling your case must first satisfy their legal burden of proof, which is proving your offense beyond a reasonable doubt. If they satisfy their burden and obtain a conviction against you, a sentencing judge will determine the penalties in your case.
The California legislature sets penalties for various offenses, including DUI and DUID. The criminal statutes sometimes set sentencing ranges, including minimum and maximum penalties for various offenses.
In most instances, DUID charges in California are misdemeanors. If you incur a DUID conviction, you may receive a monetary fine of approximately $1800 for a first-time offense, a suspension of your driver’s license, 3 to 5 years of probation, and even jail time. A judge may also require you to attend DUI school.
In some cases, however, a prosecutor may charge a DUID offense as a felony. This may happen if the intoxicated driver caused a motor vehicle collision that led to someone else’s injuries or death. A felony DUID may also occur if the driver had a prior felony DUI conviction on their record—or if the current charge is their fourth or subsequent DUI.
A conviction for felony DUID can result in a maximum of three years of jail time—or four years if they caused a motor vehicle crash that injured someone. Moreover, a judge may sentence them to a maximum monetary fine of $1000 or a maximum fine of $5000 if they caused an accident that led to someone else’s injuries.
Defending Against a Criminal DUID Charge
Depending upon the circumstances of your arrest and charge, you may be eligible to raise several legal defenses to your criminal DUID. First, your lawyer can allege that the arresting police officer violated your Fourth Amendment rights by initiating a random or otherwise improper traffic stop.
Your attorney may also argue that the police officer continued to question you after you asserted your right to the presence of counsel. Both of these defenses may lead to the suppression of certain evidence, potentially preventing the state prosecutor from establishing their legal burden.
In addition, your lawyer can allege that the weather, a health condition, or environmental factors prevented you from passing your field sobriety test. In some instances, individuals suffer from balance disorders which may prevent them from passing a field sobriety test even if they are sober.
A knowledgeable criminal defense attorney can determine if you are eligible to raise one or more of these legal defenses at your court trial. If so, your lawyer can aggressively fight on your behalf and work to get you the best possible result in your criminal DUID case.
Call an Experienced DUID Defense Attorney Today
If you are currently facing misdemeanor or felony DUI or DUID charges, you should contact a criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible about your case. The longer you wait to retain legal counsel to represent you, the more difficult it may be for a lawyer to prepare your case for trial. Your lawyer needs time to meet with you and formulate potential legal defenses to use in court.
Moreover, if you appear at your criminal court hearing or trial without a lawyer present, the judge may assume you are waiving your right to legal representation. Consequently, they may decline to postpone your case and make you go forward without a lawyer present. Therefore, the sooner you retain an attorney to represent you in your case, the better off you will likely be.
Your lawyer can meet with you to discuss the circumstances of your arrest and develop a plan of action for moving your case forward. Your lawyer can also represent you at all legal proceedings and aggressively fight for your rights at your trial or sentencing hearing.
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