Millions of people rely on prescription medications to function in their daily lives. A recent study from the Mayo Clinic showed that nearly 70 percent of Americans take at least one prescription, and more than half have two or more. When these same people need to drive, should they be worried about their prescription causing them to be arrested for driving under the influence? In California, the answer is yes.
DUIDs in California
California law prohibits anyone from driving under a drug - legal or not - which causes impairment. While arrests for driving under the influence of drugs (DUIDs) bring to mind people who were driving under the influence of illegal drugs or abusing painkillers, often these arrests can be simply a case of mixing medications or not anticipating a drug's effects.
Under the California statute, a "drug" is defined as anything that affects a person's brain, muscles, or nervous system. Any type of medication that can cause dizziness, blurry vision, drowsiness, hallucinations, or similar side effects would be considered a drug.
While most medications that people take on a daily basis do not cause a significant impairment, the combination of multiple drugs can cause problems. For example, a person on an antidepressant may be perfectly fine to drive in everyday life. If that same person comes down with a cold, and takes an antihistamine medication with a sedative effect, the combination of the two may create extreme drowsiness which could lead to an accident.
In this case, it wouldn't matter that the drugs the person took were legal - the law does not make a distinction between heroin and cold medication if the person was driving while impaired.
Proving Drug Use
Unlike regular DUIs caused by alcohol use, it can be more difficult to prove a DUID. First, there is no roadside breathalyzer test for drug use as there is with alcohol. Instead, an arresting officer will use his or her own judgment to decide if a driver seems impaired. If so, a urine test or a blood test can be ordered to test for the level of drugs in a person's system.
In addition, a Drug Recognition Evaluator (DRE) can be called to the scene to examine the driver. The DREs are trained in recognizing the signs of a person under either legal or illegal drugs, and the DREs opinion will likely determine whether or not a driver is arrested.
The problem with these types of tests is that they are very subjective. The DRE's opinion, while based on significant training, is still an opinion. Additionally, even blood tests cannot tell the investigator when or how much of a drug a person took without corroboration from the driver. A driver who has low levels of an opioid in his or her blood may have taken a lot of the drug a month ago, or a small amount that morning.
There is also no established standard to determine how much of an amount of a drug or medication in a person's system constitutes impairment. Someone who has a high level of a drug in their blood may have worked up to a greater tolerance on his or her doctor's orders, and may not be impaired at all. Or, that person may have taken a large amount of the drug earlier in the day and is significantly impaired. In these situations, the DRE's opinion is often vital to the case. We may require our own evaluator to help point out these assumptions and presumptions.
Help for DUIDs
Like any DUI, a DUID can result in serious consequences. A DUID is usually a misdemeanor, but can be a felony in certain circumstances. Regardless of how the offense is charged, the person who is arrested is still facing fines, the loss of a driver's license, and possible imprisonment.
Because of the complex nature of DUID cases, you need an attorney experienced with representing drug cases. Don't let the prosecutor assume that you were impaired if you were not! Get the representation you need on your side to fight back against criminal charges by calling the Law Offices of Virginia L. Landry. Our attorneys represent people accused of driving under the influence every day, and will work to help you clear your name.