Under California law, it is unlawful for a driver to operate a vehicle if they are under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or a combination of alcohol and drugs. This applies to prescription drugs, whether or not you have a valid prescription. It can also include over-the-counter medications. A drug DUI can lead to possible jail time, the loss of your license, and expensive fines. If you have been arrested for a DUI for using prescription medications, contact your East Bay DUI defense attorney.
Prescription Drug DUI Under California Vehicle Code 23152
Under California Vehicle Code 23152(f), “it is unlawful for a person who is under the influence of any drug to drive a vehicle.”
The term “drug” broadly includes any substance that affects the nervous system, brain, or muscles of another person that would impair his or her ability to drive as a cautious person. This may include a number of prescription drugs.
Common prescription drugs associated with DUI offenses include pain relievers, such as the opioid painkillers hydrocodone, fentanyl, codeine, oxycodone, Demerol, and Dilaudid. Other prescription medications that may impair driving include sleep aids, antidepressants, tranquilizers, stimulants, and even cold and allergy medications.
Medical Marijuana Prescription
Even though marijuana has been legalized for both recreational and medical use in California for most users, driving under the influence of marijuana is still a criminal offense. It does not matter if the driver has a prescription for medical marijuana or is legally using marijuana for recreational use, a driver may face DUI charges for operating under the influence of any drug which impairs their ability to drive.
Testing for Prescription Drugs
Under California's implied consent laws, drivers have given their implied consent to submit to chemical tests if they are arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence. The penalties for refusing a chemical test after a DUI arrest are the same for suspected alcohol use as suspected drug use. If you refuse to submit to a blood or urine test, you may face a mandatory minimum 48 hours in county jail and lose your license for one year.
Alcohol in drunk driving arrests is usually tested using breath or blood chemical samples. However, when police suspect a driver is under the influence of drugs, they may use blood or urine samples. These chemical tests will generally show whether there are traces of certain drugs in the driver's body. However, it may not give an accurate impression of exactly what drugs the driver consumed, when the driver consumed the drugs, or how much the drugs might have impaired the driver's ability to operate a vehicle.
Drug DUI cases often utilize “drug recognition experts,” and rely on the police officer's observations to use as evidence the driver was impaired. A drug recognition expert is an officer with specialized training in detecting whether a driver may be under the influence of drugs. This includes conducting eye tests, observing your heart rate, field sobriety tests,
Penalties for Prescription Drug DUI
The penalties for a drug DUI are generally the same as for an alcohol DUI. A first-time DUI may result in a 6-month suspended license, 48 hours in jail, and expensive fines and fees. A second offense can result in a 2-year license suspension and 96 hours in jail. A third DUI within 10 years can result in up to 6 months in jail. A fourth DUI in 10 years may be a felony offense, with the possibility of up to 3 years in prison.
In addition to jail time and fines, a prescription drug DUI may require three years of DUI probation, DUI school, and a drug counseling program. Drivers with an alcohol DUI may be able to get an ignition interlock device (IID) and a reduced license suspension period. However, there are currently no IIDs that test for drugs, so a driver convicted of a drug DUI may have to wait out their entire suspension period before they can get their regular license to drive.
Defenses to Drug DUI Charges
There may be a number of defenses available to charges of driving under the influence of prescription drugs. This includes:
- You were not under the influence of drugs;
- You were not impaired at the time you were driving;
- Challenging the drug recognition expert tests; or
- Challenging the chemical drug results.
Your East Bay criminal defense attorney will be able to review the police records and investigate your case to identify the best possible defenses. Your attorney may be able to challenge the prosecutor's evidence and seek to have your charges reduced or dismissed.
Prescription Drug Possession Charges
If a driver is in possession of prescription drugs without a valid prescription from a medical provider, they may also face drug possession charges. The criminal charges may depend on the amount of drugs involved. If the driver is in possession of only a small amount of pills, they may be charged with drug possession. However, if they are in possession of a larger amount of drugs or the drugs are packaged to be sold, they may face possession with intent to sell, which is a felony.
East Bay Prescription Drug DUI Attorney
Lynn Gorelick has more than 36 years of criminal defense experience defending her clients facing drug and alcohol criminal charges. She understands how to approach the individual facts of each case for the greatest chance of success, keeping her clients out of jail and maintaining a clean record. Whether you are arrested in Oakland, Richmond or anywhere else in Contra Costa or Alameda Counties, contact Lynn Gorelick who understands you do not have to plead guilty just because you were arrested.