Because many people have only heard about drunk driving, they do not think that driving while high is as serious of a crime. But driving under the influence of drugs (DUID) is dangerous for precisely the same reason, as these substances impair your judgment and reaction time. For this reason, you can face charges for driving while high, whether you used marijuana, PCP, cocaine, heroin, or even a valid, legal prescription. If you have been accused of driving after taking drugs in San Diego, call an experienced attorney as soon as possible.
Is Driving Under the Influence of Drugs the Same as Alcohol?
In California, Driving Under the Influence of Drugs is outlawed under California Vehicle Code section 23152(f) (VC), a subsection of the greater driving under the influence law. While the law uses a separate section to address the fact that it is illegal to drive while using drugs, stating, “It is unlawful for a person who is under the influence of any drug to drive a vehicle,” the penalties for a California drug DUI are mostly the same as those for drunk driving.
One of the only differences is that while drivers who get an alcohol-related DUI can reinstate their driving privileges more quickly if they install an ignition interlock device (IID), but this option is not available to those caught using drugs while driving, as breathalyzers cannot detect drug use.
What is the Legal Limit for Driving High in California?
Unfortunately, there is no way to accurately, objectively measure intoxication from any mind-altering substance aside from alcohol. As a result, there is no standard legal limit for drug use in DUID cases in California. Instead, these cases are based on officer observations of your behavior, actions, and driving abilities, paired with chemical test results indicating that you used some type of legal or illegal substance.
UCSD is currently doing a groundbreaking study on the effects of marijuana on driving. The current problem with assessing the use of marijuana and other drugs in DUI cases is that it is difficult to quantify the effects of drugs on people.
How Long Should You Wait to Drive When High?
How long it takes for the effects of a drug to wear off is a complicated matter that depends on many factors, including what substance you used, its strength, how much you used, your tolerance, how the drug was taken (ingested, smoked, injected, etc.), your weight, and more. Researchers estimate drivers should wait anywhere from three to ten hours after smoking marijuana. There is little research on how long drivers should wait before driving under the influence of other controlled substances.
The bottom line is that if you still feel the effects of any drug, including legal medications, you should avoid driving.
What Happens if You Get Caught Driving High in California?
When you are first pulled over, and the officer suspects you may be driving under the influence, he will typically start by asking you questions about where you were, where you are going, and what you have been doing. He may eventually ask if you were drinking or took any drugs. You are not legally required to answer these questions, and doing so could provide the officer with evidence to be used against you. You are legally required to provide the officer with information on your identity and provide them with your driver’s license, vehicle registration, and insurance card.
If the officer believes you are intoxicated, he will likely ask you to exit the vehicle and take a field sobriety test. You are not legally required to do so. You may also be asked to submit to a cheek swab to see if you have traces of marijuana in your mouth. This test is also optional.
Sometimes, a Drug Recognition Expert (DRE) may be called to the scene to evaluate you to see if they believe you are driving under the influence. The DRE may ask you to perform field sobriety tests, and even when requested by an expert, these tests are still optional. Consenting to them will only provide the police with more evidence against you.
When police think someone is under the influence of alcohol, they may ask them to take a preliminary breathalyzer, which is not mandatory, but they usually skip this step when they believe someone has been using drugs. Instead, they will place suspects under arrest so they can perform a chemical test. For DUID offenses, blood tests are almost always used. You are legally required to submit to these tests under California’s implied consent law, and refusing is pointless because the police can just get a telephonic search warrant allowing them to seize your blood.
At this point, the police officer will usually take your driver’s license and give you a notice of suspension of your driving privileges. This notice also serves as a 30-day temporary license that you can use while fighting the suspension if you choose to do so. Note that you must file for a hearing to fight the suspension within 10 days, or your license will automatically be suspended after 30 days.
Can You Get a DUID for Using Prescription Drugs?
Yes. If prescription drugs or any over-the-counter medication (including NyQuil) affects your driving, you can be charged with Driving Under the Influence of Drugs (DUID) just as easily as someone who has taken cocaine. Unfortunately, many people try to defend themselves by saying, “It’s ok, I have a prescription,” which is then used as proof of their guilt. This is one reason you should never give any information outside of that related to your identity if you have been pulled over by the police.
How do Police Identify People Driving High?
Just like drunk drivers, police must have a reasonable suspicion someone violated the vehicle code before stopping them for driving. Just having a Rasta sticker or a retro VW van is not enough to justify stopping someone, even if the police officer thinks these are signs of people who often drive while high. If you have been stopped for a vehicle code violation, police need an objective reason to keep you detained longer than it takes to issue a traffic ticket. To arrest you for driving under the influence, the officer must have probable cause to do so.
Signs that someone is driving while high will vary based on the drug but may include:
- Erratic behavior
- Trembling hands
- Bloodshot eyes
- The smell of marijuana
- Having a drug in the vehicle
- Having drug paraphernalia in the area visible by the police officer
Charges Related to 23152(f) (VC)
If you were under the influence of an illegal substance while driving, the DA could add a separate charge of Health and Safety Code 11550 (HS), being under the influence of drugs. This is particularly problematic because you will face jail time and because when the charge is combined with a drug DUI, you will be ineligible for a drug diversion program. Your attorney may be able to help you avoid jail with the negotiation of a plea bargain.
Additionally, even if you were not high when you got pulled over, you can still be charged with driving while addicted to drugs. These additional charges are particularly problematic because you will face jail time, and because when the charge is combined with a drug DUI, you will be ineligible for a drug diversion program. For this reason, always avoid telling the police you have an opioid prescription because it can be used as proof that you are addicted to drugs.
Fighting DUID Charges in California
There are many legal defenses your San Diego drug DUI defense attorney can use to help you fight these serious accusations. For example, because there is no legal limit when it comes to drug use and driving, the prosecution must be able to show that you were under the influence of the drug at the time you were driving or that a particular prescription you were taking has not been shown to impact driving in any manner.
In other cases, your criminal defense attorney may argue that the officer accused you of DUID only because you first passed the breathalyzer, showing you were not drunk like he originally suspected. Even if the police have some chemical test showing you smoked marijuana, this can be debated because these tests are not entirely reliable, and there is no standard saying how much of the drug makes it unsafe for someone to drive.
Another way to fight the charges is to argue that just having a drug in your system does not mean you were driving under the drug’s influence. Many drugs do not appear on blood tests, so if the test was negative and the evidence is limited to police observations, your lawyer may be able to explain away signs like trembling hands or dilated pupils. Even if you had drugs in the car, it does not mean you used them prior to driving.
Remember that anything you say to the police can be used against you, particularly when facing DUID charges in California. If you have been accused of driving under the influence of drugs, please contact a skilled San Diego drug DUI lawyer like Peter M. Liss. Call (760) 643-4050 as soon as possible to schedule a free initial consultation to discuss your case in his office just across the street from the North San Diego County courthouse and jail.