California Vehicle Code Section 23152(f) makes it unlawful to drive a motor vehicle while under the influence "of any drug." Unlike California DUI alcohol laws, which presume that your ability to drive is impaired if you have a blood alcohol concentration of .08 or greater, there is no "per se" prescription drug amount that automatically presumes that you are DUI. However, if a police officer believes that your mental abilities are impaired and that you cannot drive with the same caution of a sober person using ordinary care under similar circumstances, you will be arrested for DUI. CONTACT Berglund Law Office, P.C. today if you have been arrested for allegedly Driving Under the Influence of drugs. Prescription drugs that commonly lead to DUI arrests include Vicodin, Oxycontin, Codeine, Lortab, Hydrocone, Percocet, Ambien, Xanax, Ambien, and Lunesta. This is not an exhaustive list. Any prescription drug that causes drowsiness, impaired coordination, impaired judgment, or sleep driving can lead a police officer to believe that your ability to drive is impaired and to place you under arrest for DUI. The penalties for a DUI involving prescription drugs are the same as they are for a DUI involving alcohol.
EVIDENCE AGAINST YOU IN DUI DRUGS (DUID) CASES
If a driver is detained on suspicion of Driving Under the Influence of prescription drugs, and the arresting officer has ruled out alcohol as the sole cause of impairment, for example if the driver submits to a Preliminary Alcohol Screening Test which results in a reading of 0.00%, the officer will call for the assistance of a Drug Recognition Expert, also called a Drug Recognition Evaluator (DRE). The DRE begins his investigation by interviewing the arresting officer about what signs and symptoms he observed that led the officer to believe the person is under the influence of drugs. The DRE will then interview the driver, asking he or she if they have taken any drugs and recording specific observations of the person. This is usually followed up by administering the standardized FST's that are used during a DUI investigation, the most common being the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN), the Walk-and-Turn (WAT), and the One-Leg Stand (OLS) tests. Visit our DUI BLOG for a detailed discussion of FST's.
Following the field sobriety tests, the DRE will conduct a vital signs examination, checking the person's blood pressure and body temperature, as well as a dark room examination, using a pupilometer and pen light, to estimate the person's pupil size in specific lighting situations. This is followed up by a muscle tone examination and a check for injection sites caused by hypodermic needles. The DRE analyzes all of the signs and symptoms observed and recorded to form an opinion as to whether the person is under the influence of drugs. The final step is for the DRE to request the person to submit to a blood test to obtain evidence of drug use. All of the DRE's observations, as well as the results of the blood test, will be used by the prosecution in court against the driver to prove that they were DUI.
FIGHTING DUI CASES INVOLVING PRESCRIPTION MEDICATIONS
It can be very difficult for the prosecutor to prove driving impairment based on prescription drugs. It is tough to determine the levels of the drugs in the bloodstream at or near the time of driving. A good DUI Lawyer may want to obtain a court order for a blood split to have the blood sample retested by an independent laboratory, as opposed to only being tested at the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department or other law enforcement agency crime lab. By doing this, you can see what levels of drugs were in your system and whether the levels were high enough to possibly cause impairment at the time of driving. The levels would need to be above the therapeutic range (and even then the drug's effect is predicated on a number of factors, including the individual's tolerance, eating and sleep habits, etc.). A good DUI Lawyer may also want to request the independent laboratory to run a drug screen which will assist in determining whether any other drugs or their metabolites, in addition to those admitted to by the client or suspected by law enforcement, are present in the blood sample. The drug screen will prevent any later surprises from the government lab results.
DRUG CHARGES IN ADDITION TO DUI
If you are arrested for DUI involving prescription drugs, you could also face additional criminal charges. The officers may search your car looking for evidence of drug use. If they find prescription drugs that are prescribed in your name, or illegal drugs of any kind, you could face additional criminal charges, such as possession of a controlled substance and being under the influence of a controlled substance. If the quantity of drugs was large enough you could even face a possession for sales charge, which is a felony.
CONSULTATION WITH AN EXPERIENCED DUI LAWYER
Law enforcement officers across California are becoming better trained to recognize objective symptoms of drug impairment. Multiple studies have been conducted to support the position that drug impaired drivers are dangerous. For example, one Australian study found that drivers positive for psychotropic drugs (such as Xanax, Zoloft, and Zelexa) were significantly more likely to be culpable than drug free drivers. The same study also found that drivers with blood THC concentrations of 5 ng/ml or higher caused more motor vehicle accidents than sober drivers. It also found and that drivers with combined blood THC concentrations of 5 ng/ml or higher and a blood alcohol content of .05 or greater caused more accidents that those with only a BAC of .05 or greater.
Nevertheless, prescription drug DUI cases are difficult for the prosecution to prove. Although a blood test can show whether or not a person has used a particular prescription drug, it cannot confirm when the drug was used. The effect may have worn off well before the person drove a vehicle. Do not assume you are guilty because you have been arrested for prescription drugs DUI. The presence of prescription drugs in the body alone is not enough to prove a person is guilty of DUI beyond a reasonable doubt. If you have been arrested for DUI speak to a lawyer today and call Berglund Law Office, P.C. today at (323) 374-3520 or fill out the form on our CONTACT US page for a free and confidential consultation. DUI Lawyer Robert D. Berglund will personally return your phone call. Do not go to Court alone without knowing your rights.