Prescription Drug DUI Laws in Orange County

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Did you know that taking prescribed medication before driving could lead to a DUI charge? Many people don’t realize that DUI laws also apply to prescription drugs, but in Orange County and all of California, driving under the influence of any drug—whether legal or illegal—is prohibited. The law treats prescribed medications the same as illicit drugs like heroin or cocaine when it comes to impaired driving.

Various prescription and over-the-counter drugs can cause side effects that impair driving, similar to alcohol’s effects. In Orange County, authorities take prescription drug DUIs seriously. It’s crucial for drivers in OC to be aware of the potential dangers of driving after taking certain medications.

What Are Prescription Drug DUI Laws in Orange County?

California’s prescription drug DUI laws aim to protect the public from drivers whose vision, dexterity, reaction speed, and judgment are impaired by the side effects of legal medications. Unlike many alcohol-impaired DUI defendants, numerous L.A. drivers charged with prescription drug DUIs are often unaware that their doctor-prescribed medications could impair their driving abilities to the extent that they are considered “under the influence.”

In California, a driver can be arrested for drug DUI if they operate a vehicle under the influence of any substance other than alcohol that impairs their ability to drive with the caution and care of a sober, reasonable person. In Orange County, if police conduct a traffic stop and observe signs of impairment, the investigation and arrest process mirrors that of alcohol-related DUI cases. However, if no alcohol is detected and the driver’s performance on standardized field sobriety tests is inconclusive, a “drug influence evaluation” may be conducted.

Drug Recognition Evaluation

Standardized field sobriety tests are primarily designed to detect alcohol impairment by assessing a driver’s performance on physical tasks requiring divided attention. These tests are not specifically intended to accurately detect drug use. To address this, the L.A. Police Department developed the “drug recognition expert” (DRE) training program in the 1970s. This program has become the national standard for police agencies to identify signs of drug impairment.

A certified drug recognition evaluation includes a 12-step procedure, which involves:

– An interview with the arresting officer and the driver
– Periodic measurements of pulse and vital signs
– Eye examinations
– Several physical balancing tests
– A muscle tone examination
– A search for needle marks
– A lab test of blood, urine, or saliva

Admissibility of DRE Opinion

In Orange County, police officers trained and certified as drug recognition experts are allowed to testify in court about their conclusions regarding a driver’s impairment and the specific drug involved. This practice continues despite criticisms of the scientific validity of DRE tests. One notable issue with the DRE protocol is the use of lab tests that detect drug presence long after the effects have worn off. For instance, marijuana can be detected days or even months after use, depending on the frequency and amount consumed. When drugs are found in a driver’s system, the State may call an expert witness to testify about how the detected drug levels could impair driving ability.

Given these questionable methods of evidence collection, it is crucial to hire an experienced prescription drug DUI defense lawyer with a deep understanding of the science behind these tests. Such a lawyer is better equipped to challenge the State’s evidence and prevent an unjust or unwarranted prescription drug DUI conviction.

Commonly Abused Prescription Drugs that Can Cause DUI

Prescription drugs that can impair driving abilities include many commonly prescribed and over-the-counter medications. These drugs range from pain relievers and allergy medications to sleeping aids, muscle relaxants, antidepressants, anti-anxiety drugs, and medical marijuana. Additionally, many illegal substances also compromise safe driving.

Some of the drugs frequently involved in Orange County DUI cases include:

– Marijuana (including CBD, which can cause drowsiness and lethargy)
– Opioids (such as Hydrocodone (Vicodin), Oxycodone, OxyContin, and Percocet)
– Illegal drugs (including heroin, cocaine, LSD, mushrooms, and methamphetamines)
– Antipsychotics (such as clozapine, olanzapine, quetiapine, risperidone, ziprasidone, and aripiprazole)
– Anti-anxiety medications (Xanax, Valium, Klonopin, Ativan)
– Sleeping aids (Ambien)
– Antihistamines
– Codeine-containing products
– Cough syrups (like NyQuil)
– Over-the-counter cold and flu medications

These drugs can cause a variety of impairments, including drowsiness, sedation, confusion, dizziness, blurred vision, delayed reactions, and even aggression.

Penalties for Violating Prescription Drug DUI Laws in Orange County

The penalties for a prescription drug DUI conviction are as stringent as those for alcohol-related DUIs:

1st Offense Drug DUI:
– Up to 6 months in jail
– 3 to 5 years of probation
– Fines and fees up to $20,000
– License suspension
– 3-month drug education program (or longer)

2nd Offense Drug DUI:
– Up to 1 year in jail
– Longer license suspension
– Mandatory ignition interlock device
– Higher fines and fees
– Extended drug education program

If a driver’s drug-related DUI results in an accident causing serious injury or involves other aggravating factors, the DUI can be charged as a felony. This carries penalties of up to 10+ years in prison, fines up to $20,000, a minimum one-year license suspension, and mandatory installation of an ignition interlock device.

Defenses to Prescription Drug DUI in Orange County

The most experienced and knowledgeable DUI defense lawyers in Orange County adeptly identify and challenge the legal and procedural flaws in police investigations, creating significant hurdles for the prosecution in drug-related DUI cases. These cases must meet the same evidentiary standards as those involving alcohol impairment.

Key questions defense lawyers will investigate include:

– Did the police have legal grounds to stop the driver?
– Is the impairment due to drugs or the underlying medical condition?
– Were field sobriety tests administered correctly, as evidenced by the officer’s dashcam and bodycam footage?
– Was the driver informed of their rights before being questioned in custody?
– Was the breathalyzer test properly conducted?
– Did the driver understand they could decline to speak with the Drug Recognition Expert (DRE)?
– Was the blood or urine sample collected following proper procedures?
– Is there evidence that the driver’s sluggish behavior could be attributed to fatigue, allergies, illness, diabetic ketoacidosis, injury, or anxiety?
– Are the traces of the impairing substance in your blood old enough to not cause impairment?

Top Orange County DUI defense lawyers such as the Law Offices of Hart J. Levin will scrutinize all these factors to build a robust defense.

Get the Highest Rated DUI Defense Lawyers in Orange County on Your Case

To protect yourself from an unjust prescription drug DUI conviction, you need the expertise of a skilled Orange County DUI defense lawyer experienced in handling such cases. The Law Offices of Hart J. Levin is known as the highest-rated DUI defense firm in California, with a proven track record of courtroom victories and satisfied clients. When you need a successful DUI defense attorney in Orange County, contact Attorney Hart J. Levin.

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