In California, driving under the influence of drugs is the same as driving under the influence of alcohol. The penalties are identical. But your case might be quite different depending on which substances are involved.
Unfortunately, what counts as a “drug” in California is very broad. Any of the following substances can result in a DUI:
- Illegal drugs or controlled substances
- Legal drugs with a prescription
- Legal drugs sold over the counter
The only real limit to what counts as a drug is that it must “affect the nervous system, brain, or muscles” and thus cause impairment.
That means that having nearly any drug in your body could count as driving under the influence. And some are viewed much more harshly than others. To see the difference we’ll look in detail at marijuana, other illegal substances, and legal drugs.
Marijuana in a California DUI Case
Marijuana is the most common drug involved in a drug DUI. Marijuana cases can become very complex since the drug has been decriminalized, and many Californians have a prescription. However, for the purposes of a DUI charge it does not matter if your marijuana is legal or illegal. Having a prescription to use it does not change whether it counts as DUI. Just like alcohol, if it affected your driving then it’s a DUI.
Marijuana is also viewed harshly in DUI cases, because it so clearly causes impairment. It definitely meets the state guideline of “affecting the nervous system, brain or muscles.”
However, simply possessing marijuana when you were pulled over—or even admitting to using it—does not mean you were impaired. When police suspect a marijuana DUI they will administer a chemical test (usually a urine test). The rest results will say how much marijuana was in your system.
Unlike alcohol, there is no “legal limit” for marijuana. This can work both for and against you. The downside is that any measurable amount of marijuana in your urine could be enough for a conviction. The positive side is that there’s room for argument. Depending on the amount of marijuana in your system, you can make a case that it didn’t affect your driving.
Other Illegal Drugs
The process for other controlled substances is the same as it is for marijuana. Again, you will be given a blood or urine test and any amount can count against you. DUI’s routinely involve methamphetamines, cocaine, crack, ecstasy and other drugs.
The problem with treating all drugs the same is that they actually have different effects. Someone taking ecstasy does not feel impaired and indeed they may not drive differently than they would “sober.” A good DUI lawyer has spent significant time researching each individual drug. They know what the drug does and how it has been treated by the courts. They also know what defense makes the most sense for your specific substance.
Just like prescription marijuana, even a medicine sold legally can count as a DUI. But not all medicines are viewed the same. Law enforcement isn’t looking for Tylenol or aspirin in your system. Vicodin or Xanax however, even with a prescription, will be looked at as sources of impairment.
Common medicines seen in DUI cases include:
- Cough syrup
- Nighttime cold or flu medicine
- Anxiety medication
- Prescription painkillers
- Muscle relaxants
- Anything that causes drowsiness or a lightheaded sensation
With these drugs, law enforcement often makes the connection “after the fact.” For example, you swerved or got into a car accident and they decided to test you, looking for an illegal substance. The test came back clean but showed you were using prescription Xanax. They now decide the Xanax is to blame, and continue with the DUI charge.
This is the kind of situation a good DUI lawyer can often turn around. Many people drive on prescription medicine every day with no problem. The lawyer can argue that the medicine has nothing to do with your driving, and that the police are grasping at straws. In the hands of an experienced attorney this is a very effective defense.
No matter what kind of substance was involved, you need to speak to a lawyer. A DUI lawyer will not only know the top defenses for each substance, they’ll also know how the judge assigned to your case feels about drug DUI’s. And they will be able to challenge the chemical test evidence against you. No DUI case is unwinnable.
We can match you with a DUI lawyer who has the right experience for your specific case. Your DUI lawyer will give you a FREE initial meeting to discuss your case and recommend a course of action. Even one hour talking to a true professional can change the way you view your case.
Don’t face a drug DUI without representation. Fill out the form to the right and get your free consultation today.