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Driving Under the Influence of Drugs

Driving under the influence of drugs (sometimes called DUI drugs, or DUID) is typically covered by the same law as are most drunk driving offenses. That is, in most states, the drunk driving law prohibits driving under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or the combined influence of alcohol and drugs.

The critical question in a driving under the influence of drugs case will be whether the driver is able to operate his or her vehicle with the same caution characteristic of a sober person of ordinary prudence under the same or similar circumstances. If, because of the consumption of drugs, the driver is not able to do so, they can be convicted of driving under the influence of drugs.

Drugs, for purposes of driving under the influence of drugs, can include legal or illegal drugs. The California Vehicle Code Section which defines what a drug is for purposes of driving under the influence of drugs (DUI drugs) is illustrative. California Vehicle Code Section 312 defines a drug as a substance, other than alcohol, “…which could so affect the nervous system, brain, or muscles of a person as to impair to an appreciable degree, his ability to drive a vehicle in a manner that an ordinarily prudent and cautious man, in full possession of his faculties, using reasonable care, would drive a similar vehicle under like conditions.”

Under this definition of “drug” for purposes of driving under the influence of drugs (DUI drugs), the drug in question does not have to be illegal. The questions of whether the drug is legal or illegal, or prescribed or not prescribed, are not controlling in a driving under the influence of drugs (DUI drugs) case. If, for example, taking over-the-counter cold medicine impairs the accused’s driving ability to the legal standard, he or she could be convicted of driving under the influence of drugs(DUI drugs).

At least one state, Nevada, has taken a slightly different approach to driving under the influence of drugs (DUI drugs & DUID). Nevada DUI drug cases are based on the driver having above a certain level of drugs in their system, as reflected by a test of their blood or urine. In this respect, Nevada’s DUI drugs law is similar to the law in every state which declares it illegal to drive with a blood alcohol level (BAC) of .08% or higher.

Driving under the influence of drugs (DUI drugs) cases are investigated in a manner similar to cases that involve driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI). In every DUI case, the officer is looking for circumstantial evidence of impairment, whether from alcohol or other drugs. Driving patterns, performance on field sobriety tests, physical signs and symptoms, and chemical test results are each important in an investigation for DUI drugs.

A trial in driving under the influence of drugs case is also similar to a trial in a DUI alcohol case. Trial in these cases is just like any other criminal trial, which proceeds from jury selection to opening statement, then the prosecution’s case, the defense case, closing arguments, and jury deliberation. There are good reasons to fight your case, and consultation with a criminal defense lawyer is vital.

The unique feature in a trial relating to driving under the influence of drugs (DUI drugs) is that there will likely be testimony provided by a Drug Recognition Evaluator, or, as they like to call themselves, Drug Recognition Experts (DRE). Whether or not they are true experts will be determined by how effectively your defense lawyer deals with them. However, DRE’s are unique, as they only testify in cases involving persons alleged to be under the influence of drugs.

Drug Recognition Experts

Because of the likelihood that law enforcement officers will, at one time or another, confront a driver, they suspect of driving under the influence of drugs, special training has developed in this area. Officers who have received special training in the area of driving under the influence of drugs (DUI drugs) are called DRE’s, or Drug Recognition Experts. When a case involving driving under the influence of drugs is prosecuted without a DRE being involved in the investigation, conviction rates plummet, as many officers are not sufficiently trained to recognize the signs and symptoms of drug intoxication, especially at lower doses.

The driving under the influence of drugs (DUI drugs) DRE evaluation process has 12 Steps:

  1. Conducting a breath alcohol test to see if the alcohol level is consistent with the level of impairment demonstrated by the subject;
  2. Having an officer trained in this process conduct an interview with the arresting officer, to take advantage of the things that he or she may have seen or heard during earlier contact with the suspect;
  3. Interviewing the suspect to determine whether or not he or she is suffering from some illness or problem that may be confused with the ingestion of drugs;
  4. Examination of the suspect’s eyes, including horizontal gaze Nystagmus, vertical Nystagmus, and a check for lack of convergence;
  5. Divided attention psychophysical tests, which include the Rhomberg balance test, the walk, and turn test, the one-leg stand test, and the finger to nose test;
  6. Examination of the suspect’s vital signs, including a systematic check of blood pressure, pulse rate, and temperature;
  7. The darkroom examinations, which include systematic checks of the size of the pupils of the suspect’s eyes, the reaction of the pupils to light, and examination for evidence of ingestion of drugs by nose or mouth;
  8. Examination of the suspect’s muscle tone for rigidity or flaccidity;
  9. Examination of injection sites;
  10. Interviewing the suspect (following a waiver of Miranda rights, if given) for admissions of any drug use;
  11. The Drug Recognition Expert reaching an opinion regarding whether the suspect is under the influence of a drug or drugs, and if so the category or combination of categories of drugs that is the probable cause of the suspect’s impairment;
  12. The toxicological examination, which is a chemical test (usually of the suspect’s blood or urine) that can provide scientific evidence to substantiate the DRE’s opinions.

It is vital for a purported Drug Recognition Expert to be able to distinguish among the various classes of drugs, including central nervous system depressants (such as alcohol); central nervous system stimulants (such as cocaine or amphetamines); hallucinogens (like peyote or LSD); Phencyclidine (PCP and its chemical cousins, such as ketamine); narcotic analgesics (opium derivatives, such as morphine, heroin, and codeine); inhalants (including glue, aerosol sprays, and other household materials); and cannabis (marijuana, hashish, and other synthetic compounds).

Punishment in DUI Drugs Cases

Punishment in cases involving driving under the influence of drugs mirrors that in cases involving driving under the influence of alcohol. There may be formal or informal probation (formal probation means that it is necessary to report to a probation officer; informal probation does not require this)jail (or jail alternatives); fines; drug and alcohol educational programs; license suspension, revocation, or restriction; random drug testing, and other punishments imposed by the court. Of course, there are indirect consequences such as increased auto insurance that drive up the costs associated with driving under the influence of drugs conviction.

Because driving under the influence of drugs contains an additional element of danger that simple possession or being under the influence of drugs does not, the alternative sentencing programs that are commonly available in drug cases are NOT available to someone charged with driving under the influence of drugs (DUI drugs). This means that Deferred Entry of Judgment Diversion and Prop 36 is NOT available to the person charged with DUI drugs.

If you or someone you care about has been charged with driving under the influence of drugs (DUI drugs), driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI/DWI), or related drug possession or driving under the influence charge, it is vital to consult with a criminal defense lawyer at once. An experienced DUI defense attorney will be able to help and is the first step in correcting a difficult legal situation.

If you’ve already been convicted of driving under the influence of drugs, DUI, or any type of criminal charge, you may be eligible for post-conviction relief such as an expungement. Whether you are concerned with misdemeanor expungement or felony expungement followed by a Certificate of Rehabilitation or Pardon, it is possible to clean up your past. Consultation with a criminal defense lawyer who is experienced in such matters is critical.