Understanding Prescription Drug DUI Laws in Los Angeles

Did you know that driving after you took a prescribed medication could result in a DUI charge? Few people associate DUI with prescription drugs, but California law prohibits any person from driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or a combination of both. And the law does not distinguish between legally prescribed medications and illicit street drugs like cocaine or heroin.

Many prescriptions or over-the-counter medications have side effects that can impair a driver’s ability to safely operate a vehicle, often mimicking the effects of alcohol. In L.A., prescription drug DUIs are prosecuted vigorously. It’s essential that every Los Angeles driver understand the risks of driving after taking some prescribed medications.

What Are Prescription Drug DUI Laws?

California’s prescription drug DUI laws were enacted to protect the public from drivers whose vision, dexterity, reaction speed, and judgment are impaired because of the side effects of legal medication. Unlike most alcohol-impaired DUI defendants, many L.A. drivers charged with prescription drug DUI were unaware that their doctor-prescribed medication could affect their driving skills enough for them to be considered “under the influence.”

A driver is subject to arrest for drug DUI in California if they drive a vehicle under the influence of any substance other than alcohol that impairs their ability to drive as an ordinarily cautious person using reasonable care and in full possession of their faculties would drive under similar circumstances.

In Los Angeles, if police conduct a traffic stop during which the driver displays signs of impairment, the investigation and arrest process will proceed just as it would if alcohol were suspected to be the source of the impairment. But when alcohol is not detected, and the driver’s inconclusive performance of standardized field sobriety tests indicates a substance other than alcohol is involved, a “drug influence evaluation” may be conducted.

Drug Recognition Evaluation
Roadside standardized field sobriety tests were designed to detect elevated alcohol levels by attempting to measure how well a driver performs physical tasks when their attention is divided. But the tests were not intended to accurately detect drug use.

The L.A. Police Department started developing the “drug recognition expert” (DRE) training program back in the 1970s. The program the L.A.P.D initiated is now the standard drug testing protocol used by police agencies across the country to identify clues that a person is impaired or under the influence of drugs.

A certified drug recognition evaluation involves a 12-step procedure, including an interview with the arresting officer and the driver, several periodic measurements of pulse and vital signs, eye examinations, several physical balancing tests, a muscle tone examination, a search for needle marks, and a lab test of either blood, urine, or saliva.

Admissibility of DRE Opinion
California courts permit police officers trained and certified as drug recognition experts to testify about their conclusions as to whether a driver was under the influence of drugs and of which drug they believe to be involved. This continues despite research showing that the DRE tests rely on studies for validation that have been criticized for flawed scientific methods.

An additional failure of the DRE protocol is its use of lab tests that can detect the presence or use of drugs in the human body long after the effects of the drug have disappeared. Marijuana can be detected days or even months after it is ingested, depending on the driver’s frequency of use and amount consumed. When drugs are found to be present in a driver’s blood, the State may call an expert witness to testify about whether and how a driver with that amount of the drug in their system would be impaired and could not operate a motor vehicle safely.

These questionable police methods of gathering evidence underscore the importance of hiring an experienced prescription drug DUI defense lawyer with an expert understanding of the science underpinning the tests. A DUI defense lawyer with this advanced expertise is better equipped to attack the State’s evidence and to prevent an unjust or avoidable prescription drug DUI conviction.

Commonly Abused Prescription Drugs that Can Cause DUI

Prescription drugs that can cause a driver to drive under the influence are familiar, widely prescribed medications. The list includes analgesics (pain relievers), allergy medications, sleeping aids, muscle relaxers, antidepressants, antianxiety drugs, medical marijuana, and even many over-the-counter medications. Of course, many illegal drugs can also impair a driver’s ability to drive safely.

Here are several of the drugs encountered in California DUI cases:

  • – Marijuana (CBD can also cause drowsiness and lethargy)
  • – Opioids (Hydrocodone (Vicodin), Oxycodone, Oxycontin, Percocet)
    – Illegal drugs (heroin, cocaine, LSD, mushrooms, methamphetamines)
    – Antipsychotics (clozapine, olanzapine and quetiapine > risperidone, ziprasidone, aripiprazole)
    – Xanax
    – Valium
    – Klonopin
    – Ativan
    – Ambien
    – Antihistamines
    – Products containing codeine
    – Cough syrup (Nyquil)
    – Over-the-counter cold and flu meds

The effects of these drugs vary, but they can include drowsiness and sedation, confusion, dizziness, blurred vision, delayed reactions, or even aggression.

Consequences of Violating Prescription Drug DUI Laws in Los Angeles

The penalties for a prescription drug DUI conviction are as severe as those imposed on drivers under the influence of alcohol:

    • 1st Offense Drug DUI: Up to 6 months in jail — 3 to 5 years of probation
      • Fines and fees up to $20,000 — license suspension — 3-month drug education program (or longer)
  • 2nd Offense Drug DUI: Up to 1 year in jail — longer license suspension — mandatory ignition interlock device — higher fines and fees — longer drug education program.

If a driver’s drug-related DUI involved an accident with a serious injury to another person or other aggravating circumstances, the drugged DUI could be charged as a felony carrying up to 10+ years in prison, a fine of up to $20,000, a minimum of one-year license suspension, and mandatory installation and use of an ignition interlock device.

California Defenses to Prescription Drug DUI

The most experienced and knowledgeable California DUI defense lawyers skillfully expose the legal and procedural flaws in the police investigation and the problems those errors create for the prosecutor. Drug-related DUI cases must pass the same evidentiary hurdles as an alcohol impairment case.

  • – Did the police have legal grounds to stop the driver?
  • – Is the impairment from drugs or from the underlying illness itself?
  • – If field sobriety tests were administered, were they administered according to required protocols as shown on the officer’s dashcam and bodycam?
  • – Was the driver advised of all their rights before questioning once taken into custody?
  • – Was the breathalyzer test properly administered?
  • – Did the driver know they could decline to speak with the DRE?
  • – Was the blood or urine collected properly?
  • – Is there any evidence supporting the driver’s possible sluggish manner being attributable to fatigue, allergies, illness, diabetic ketoacidosis, injury, illness, or anxiety?

All of these issues will be challenged by the best L.A. DUI defense lawyers.

Get the Highest Rated DUI Defense Lawyers in California on Your Case

Protecting yourself from an unjust prescription drug DUI conviction requires the help of a skilled Los Angeles DUI defense lawyer with extensive experience fighting prescription drug DUI cases. The Law Offices of Hart J. Levin earned recognition as the highest-rated DUI defense lawyers in California through years of courtroom victories fighting for satisfied clients. Contact Attorney Hart J. Levin when you need a successful Los Angeles DUI defense attorney.

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