How Do Drugs, Including Legalized Marijuana, Affect DUI Cases?

Interviewer: Is it correct people can get a DUI for drug use, whether they’re illegal or prescription drugs?

Mark: That is correct. Most people relate DUIs to alcohol. They think of that first and then they think about drugs. Quite frankly, I represent a lot of people who use prescription drugs and think they’re fine to drive. Sometimes their doctor has even told them it’sokay to drive. They might have been told there are individual symptoms they should watch for and not drive in a particular case. However, they hadn’t noticed any of those symptoms and thought they were okay.

A DUI absolutely is more than just driving under the influence of alcohol. It can be a perfectly legal substance they never thought twice of. There are a lot of defenses to that as well. It’s more difficult for the state to prove those cases because some of their trump card on DUIs is the 0.08 percent or higher standard. Driving while impaired, while under the influence of a drug, is more difficult to prove because there’s no set amount of drug that makes you impaired.

Interviewer: Are those cases easier to defend and more difficult for the state to prove?

Mark: Yes. Basically, the state has to prove you could not drive as a reasonable person would under the circumstances. Oftentimes, somebody will get pulled over in a DUI sting because of speeding or something not necessarily related to using prescription drugs or other drugs. Subsequently the officer will determine that they’ve got drugs in their system and they’re influenced by it. However, it’s very difficult for the state to prove they were influenced by it so much that they could not drive as a reasonable person could under the circumstances.

It’s more difficult to defend a client if they were weaving all over the road or if they had an accident. It’s obvious they were not cognizant. Oftentimes, I’m representing somebody on an alcohol related DUI where he fell asleep at the wheel; and drugs were involved too. Drowsiness has the same effect. The question is: Was it from the drugs, or was it because the person had been up 14 hours?

They could be in an accident and it wasn’t caused by the drugs. Then you still have a valid defense. There are plenty of things that can be brought up like that. It is harder for the state to prove a drug related DUI; than to prove alcohol at the 0.08 percent level.

Interviewer: California is a medical marijuana state. Does a person who legally smoked marijuana for medical reasons have a better defense against a DUI?

Mark: Basically, marijuana is an overall drug. Just like an over the counter prescription, there are no additional defenses for medicinal marijuana. There’s no additional defense based on the fact a doctor prescribed it either. However, it is harder to prove because there’s no standard, like 0.08, for the state to hang their hat and say, “You’re guilty.” They have to actually prove you were impaired to the point you could not drive as a reasonable person.

By Mark Bigger