Many prosecutor’s offices, including the Orange County District Attorney’s Office, now have special Deputy District Attorneys who are designated to prosecute Driving Under the Influence of Drugs cases. The violation of California Vehicle Code Section (CVC) 23152(a) can consist of a combination of alcohol and drugs causing impairment in a driver’s ability to drive. Increasingly DUI charges are being brought against people who have not consumed any alcohol but are solely accused of driving under the influence of drugs.
At first, the image that comes to mind is that of a drug crazed driver who is under the influence of an illegal substance such as methamphetamine or heroin. However, the District Attorney’s Office is targeting not just those drivers but the driver who has taken prescription medication. A driver who takes a prescribed medication that impairs his ability to drive his vehicle safely is also subject to prosecution for DUI. A note written on a doctor’s prescription pad is not being taken as a defense by prosecutors. Even doctors themselves are being prosecuted for DUI if their blood is found to contain prescription drugs following an arrest for DUI.
Many medications commonly warn of possible driving impairment after ingestion. However, the fact that a driver has consumed the medication and it is found in the blood is not the end of a driver’s defense to a charge of DUI. The blood must be tested to determine if the level of the prescribed drug in the blood is above the therapeutic level. If it is above the therapeutic level it can lead to the conclusion that the symptoms the driver is exhibiting is the result of the medication. However, even that is not the last word in the defense of DUI drug cases. If a driver has taken the medication found in the blood for some time or suffers from a severe form of whatever the medication is prescribed for, the above therapeutic level amount may be explained as not being the cause of the symptoms the officer is seeing at the time of the arrest.
To successfully defend a DUI drug case expert testimony will be needed. The symptoms the officer sees must be explained as caused by something other than the drugs/medication in the system. Many medical conditions can cause symptoms that, to the untrained (in medicine) eye, be mistaken for impairment due to drug intoxication. A medical doctor or other expert’s opinion will be necessary to counter the conclusion drawn by the police officer and even the crime lab expert (who is not really an expert at all in the effects of medication). The success of the case will depend on convincing the jury that what the officer is seeing as impairment is a medical condition treated by the drugs in the system and not caused by the drugs in the system.