Monthly Archives: March 2017
In California it is Actually Illegal to Drive While Addicted
Most people know that in California, a person cannot drive with a blood alcohol content of 0.08 percent or more. Some know that, additionally, a person can be charged separately with “driving under the influence” if the officer observed facts that would lead a prosecutor to believe that the person couldn’t drive like a sober person regardless of their blood alcohol content. But few people, however, are aware of California’s least known DUI law.
It is actually illegal in California to drive a vehicle while addicted to a drug.
Under California Vehicle Code section 23152(c), “[i]t is unlawful for any person who is addicted to the use of any drug to drive a vehicle.”
When I first learned that this law existed, I asked myself the same questions that you’re probably asking yourself right now: If an addict is not under the influence at the time of driving, how can still be prosecuted for a DUI? Shouldn’t the law only punish those who actually pose a risk to the roads because of current intoxication?
In 1965, the California Supreme Court justified the law in the case of People v. O’Neil.
In looking at the legislative intent in drafting the law, the court concluded, “when an individual has reached the point that his body reacts physically to the termination of drug administration, he has become ‘addicted’ within the meaning and purpose of [23152(c)]. Although physical dependency or the abstinence syndrome is but one of the characteristics of addiction, it is of crucial import in light of the purpose of [23152(c)] since it renders the individual a potential danger on the highway.”
Although it’s a stretch, the court concluded that a person who is an addict and going through withdrawals can be a danger to the roads. So if that’s the case, can a person who is an addict, but not going through withdrawals, still be arrested, charged, and convicted? According to the California Supreme Court, yes.
“The prosecution need not prove that the individual was actually in a state of withdrawal while driving the vehicle. The prosecution’s burden is to show (1) that the defendant has become ‘emotionally dependent’ on the drug in the sense that he experiences a compulsive need to continue its use, (2) that he has developed a ‘tolerance’ to its effects and hence requires larger and more potent doses, and (3) that he has become ‘physically dependent’ so as to suffer withdrawal symptoms if he is deprived of his dosage.”
Although this section of the vehicle code is rarely enforced, California technically can continue to punish drivers who are addicted to a drug even though they may not be, at the time of driving, under the influence of a drug.
Apparently some parts of the California Vehicle Code like this section doesn’t exist to protect the public from unsafe drivers, but rather punish people with arbitrary labels who can and do drive safe.
San Diego Begins Using Mouth Swabs to Detect Drugged Drivers
I’ve been writing for some time now that roadside drug tests for suspected DUI of drugs stops are not far off. The increase in drug usage and the growing acceptance of marijuana has law enforcement agencies and law makers clamoring for a device that can quickly and accurately test whether drivers are under the influence of drugs. While current devices are not quite yet capable of telling law enforcement how intoxicated a driver might be, they can say whether a driver has drugs in their system. And San Diego became the latest city to use such devices roadside.
Last week, San Diego police began using roadside oral swabs to test drivers for the presence of marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine, amphetamine, methadone, opiates, and benzodiazepines. The oral swabs cannot, however, test the amount of drugs in the driver’s system nor can it test for the driver’s level of intoxication.
The inability to test for quantity of drug or intoxication is legally important because, under California law, a person can only be arrested, charged, and convicted of a California DUI if they are “under the influence of a drug.” This means that a person’s physical or mental disabilities are impaired to such a degree that they no longer have the ability to drive with the caution characteristic or a sober person of ordinary prudence under the same or similar circumstances.
With the swab test only able to indicate the presence of one of the drugs listed above, a prosecutor must still prove that a person was not driving with the care of that of a sober person. This is done with officer testimony of poor driving patterns, failure of field sobriety tests, and visual symptoms of drug impairment.
Although many, including Mothers Against Drunk Driving, often forget, the mere presence of drugs in a driver’s system does not necessarily mean that they are driving under the influence. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the active component in marijuana, for example, can stay in a person’s system for up to several weeks after the smoking or ingestion of marijuana. While, the THC may still be present, the person may no longer be “under the influence.”
San Diego began using the oral swab test, called Dräger 5000, after officials met with authorities in Colorado which legalized recreational marijuana in 2014.
Under San Diego protocol, law enforcement will only request the oral swab after they suspect that the driver might be under the influence of a drug. And before that, the officer must have probable cause to even stop the driver in the first place.
Like the preliminary screening alcohol test (PAS) test in DUI of alcohol cases, the oral swab test is also optional. And like the PAS test, it is never suggested that a driver voluntarily submit to the test. Never give law enforcement and prosecutors any more information than they already have.
Only after a person is arrested must they submit to a chemical test and if law enforcement suspects that a person was driving under the influence of a drug, they’ll have to take a blood test.
According to a study by the California Office of Traffic Safety, 38 percent of drivers killed in vehicle collisions during 2014 tested positive for either legal or illegal drugs. This is up six percent from 2013. While this may seem like a high number, testing positive does not necessarily mean that those drivers were actually under the influence and impaired by a drug.
Although drugged driving is and will always be a problem, we can’t continue to arrest people for driving for the mere presence of drugs in their system because presence does not mean impairment.
Utah Lawmakers Vote to Lower State’s BAC Limit to 0.05
Utah could soon have the lowest blood alcohol content limit in the country after the state’s lawmakers voted to lower the threshold for driving to 0.05 percent.
Currently in California, as well as the rest of the country, the legal blood alcohol limit that a person can have in their system is less than 0.08 percent.
In 2013, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) voted to recommend that states lower their blood alcohol limits to 0.05 percent and cited studies that have shown that impairment can occur with a blood alcohol content of 0.05 percent. And now it seems as though Utah has taken up their recommendation.
The new law, which was sponsored by Rep. Norm Thurston, was advanced on the proposition that a lower blood alcohol content could lower incidences of drunk driving.
“The .08 sends a false message … it’s kind of a game — how much can I drink and still stay under the .08?" said Rep. Kelly Miles. “So this will benefit those because now the message is, ‘I shouldn’t drink anything and drive.’ This will send a message to the nation, but I think the message is ‘you are welcome to come here to Utah, you are welcome to drink, but then please make arrangements for a ride.”
Not all of Utah’s lawmakers were on board.
“I don’t think there’s enough data out there that would suggest that lowering the limit would reduce alcohol-related traffic fatalities,” said Rep. Gage Froerer, noting that texting while driving and distracted driving resulted in more deaths than drunk driving. “No one can dispute the validity of not drinking and driving — that’s a given. But the question comes down to personal freedoms, rights and enforcement. Our efforts are better spent on education and informing the public.”
The change in law begs the question, “How many drinks does it take to get to a blood alcohol content of 0.05 percent?”
The California DMV provides very general chart of for guidance on how many drinks it takes to get to certain blood alcohol contents. I emphasize that the chart is only for guidance. A number of factors will affect how many drinks will get a person to 0.8 and 0.05.
A 160-pound male who has two drinks in an hour will have a blood alcohol content around 0.07 to 0.08 percent. One drink will put the same 160-pound male between 0.04 and 0.05 percent.
A 140-pound female who has two drinks in an hour will have a blood alcohol content around 0.09 percent. One drink will put the same 140-pound female around 0.05 percent.
Across the chart, the difference between getting a DUI in Utah, if the law is passed, and the rest of the country including California is about one drink in an hour. And no, it does not matter what type of drink it is. 1.5 ounces of 80 proof liquor, 12 ounces of 5% beer, and 5 ounces of 12% wine all have about the same amount of alcohol and all count as one drink.
If Utah’s governor, Gary Herbert, signs the bill, the new law would take effect on December 20, 2018. Just in time for the New Year’s celebrations.
Can I Expunge a California DUI Conviction?
A very common question people have when they are arrested on suspicion of a California DUI is, “Will this be on my criminal record and, if so, for how long?”
Unfortunately, if the person is convicted, the answer is “yes and forever.” But that doesn’t mean that all hope is lost.
I should clarify before I move on that the arrest will also be on the record, but an arrest, unlike a conviction, cannot be used against you if you were never convicted. Remember, everyone is innocent until proven guilty and if a conviction never occurred, then the person is still innocent. Simply put, an arrest means nothing without a conviction and employers cannot inquire about an arrest nor can they use an arrest as a reason not to hire you.
Having said that, a conviction is different because a conviction means that a person was found guilty of a crime such as a DUI. Convictions can be and are often used by employers as a reason not to hire someone.
When people hear the word “expungement” they think of a clearing of the record, and erasing if you will. However, the term “expungement” is somewhat of a misnomer in California because a DUI conviction, or any criminal conviction for that matter, will not be erased from your record.
California Penal Code section 1203.4 provides, “In any case in which a defendant has fulfilled the conditions of probation…or in any case in which a court, in its discretion and the interest of justice, determines that a defendant should be granted relief under this section, the defendant shall…be permitted by the court to withdraw his or her plea of guilty or plea of nolo contendere and enter a plea of not guilty; of, if he or she has been convicted after a plea of not guilty, the court shall set aside the verdict of guilty; and, in either case, the court shall thereupon dismiss the accusations or information against the defendant and…he or she shall thereafter be released from all penalties and disabilities resulting from the offense of which he or she has been convicted…”
In short, this means that, following the completion of probation, a person can petition to withdraw their guilty plea, no contest plea, or guilty verdict following a trial and the court retroactively dismisses the case.
Although the conviction is not erased from the record, it will now show up as having been dismissed by the court. Cases that are dismissed don’t result in convictions. So, if a person successfully petitions the court for an expungement of a California DUI, they no longer need to disclose the conviction on most employment applications because the conviction was dismissed.
I said that a person need not disclose expunged convictions for most employers because there are some exceptions to the disclosure rule. The conviction must still be disclosed when applying for a government position, a state license, public office, or for contracting with the state lottery. If this is the case, however, a person can then say that the conviction was dismissed under Penal Code section 1203.4 after they have disclosed it.
People make mistakes and sometimes that mistake is the decision to drive while under the influence. Mistakes shouldn’t haunt people for the rest of their lives. If you’ve been convicted of a California DUI and you have completed probation, contact a California DUI attorney about expunging the DUI conviction.
Lawmakers Seek to Create Drugged Driving Task Force
With the legalization of recreational marijuana in California, lawmakers are pushing efforts to pass new legislation regarding marijuana, particularly when it comes driving after marijuana use. Tom Lackey (R-Palmdale), who is no stranger to introducing anti-DUI laws in California, has introduced a bill that would create a drugged driving taskforce under the supervision of the Commissioner of the California Highway Patrol.
“The bill, AB-6, is a reasonable approach forward to address our fight against drugged driving,” Lackey told the Los Angeles Times. “The urgency of this should be very clear to all of us.”
The bill, which was proposed by the California Police Chiefs Association and introduced by Lackey, if approved, would add a completely new section to the current California Vehicle Code.
The Legislative Counsel’s Digest for the bill says the following:
“This bill would require the commissioner to appoint, and serve as the chair of, a drugged driving task force, with specified membership, to develop recommendations for best practices, protocols, proposed legislation, and other policies that will address the issue of driving under the influence of drugs, including prescription drugs. The bill would also require the task force to examine the use of technology, including field testing technologies, to identify drivers under the influence of drugs, and would authorize the task force to conduct pilot programs using those technologies. The bill would require the task force to report to the Legislature its policy recommendations and the steps that state agencies are taking regarding drugged driving.”
The task force would include representatives from local law enforcement, prosecutors, various representatives from the marijuana industry, representatives from the pharmaceutical industry, representatives from the Office of Traffic Safety, representatives from the National Highway Traffic Safety Association, and licensed physicians.
The Assembly Public Safety Committee unanimously recommended the bill after a hearing in which Karen Smith, a teacher from Antelope Valley, provided emotional testimony about how her husband had been killed a driver who was under the influence of marijuana.
“He was just 56 years old. We had been married for 34 years,” said Smith. “It was all wiped out in just one second by a person who chose to drive under the influence of THC.”
There’s no question that marijuana affects driving ability. Exactly how and to what degree, is up for debate. What is certain however, is that there is a very important difference between being under the influence of marijuana and having THC in your system, and the task force, if AB-6 passes, had better understand the difference.
It is well known that the “per se” limit for how much alcohol can be in a person’s system is 0.08 percent blood alcohol content. With alcohol, there is a fairly strong correlation between blood alcohol content and intoxication. In other words, there is a high probability that a person with a 0.08 blood alcohol content is feeling the effects of alcohol intoxication such that they cannot operate a vehicle as a reasonable and sober person would.
The same cannot be said about the intoxicating effects of marijuana use and the amount of THC in a person’s blood. Unlike alcohol, THC is fat soluble which means that it leaves the body at a much slower rate. In fact, chronic users of marijuana can have THC in their blood weeks after use. Therefore, someone who has smoked marijuana three weeks ago can still be arrested in states with a “per se” THC limit even though they are no longer under the influence of marijuana and perfectly sober.