For the most part, California's statutes relating to driving under the influence are similar to other states. Like most states, California makes it illegal to operate a vehicle with a blood alcohol concentration of .08 or more. But the California Vehicle Code is more expansive compared to some specific alcohol-related activities compared to other states. For instance, California Vehicle Code § 23152(c) bars a person addicted to the use of any drug from driving.
A conviction for driving while addicted is punished the same as a DUI; repeated convictions can lead to a felony charge. However, there are unique defenses in a driving while addicted case that are not available in a standard DUI prosecution. William S. Kroger Attorney at Law has successfully defended driving while addicted cases and understands the complexities these cases can bring.
Driving While Addicted to a Drug in California
According to California Vehicle Code § 23152(c):
It is unlawful for a person who is addicted to the use of any drug to drive a vehicle. This subdivision shall not apply to a person who is participating in a narcotic treatment program…
In other words, to obtain a conviction for driving while addicted to a drug the prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you drove a vehicle and that at the time you were addicted to a drug. While that may seem straightforward on the surface, the statute isn't clear about the definition of a drug. It also fails to identify what the definition of addicted is. However, the California Criminal Jury Instructions helpfully defined both terms. According to the jury instructions, a drug is:
a substance or combination of substances, other than alcohol, that could so affect the nervous system, brain, or muscles of a person that it would appreciably impair his or her ability to drive as an ordinarily cautious person, in full possession of his or her faculties and using reasonable care, would drive under similar circumstances.
The jury instructions likewise define addiction as:
- Has become physically dependent on the drug, suffering withdrawal symptoms if he or she is deprived of it;
- Has developed a tolerance to the drug's effects and therefore requires larger and more potent doses; and
- Has become emotionally dependent on the drug, experiencing a compulsive need to continue its use.
Potential Penalties for Driving While Addicted to a Drug
A charge of driving while addicted to a drug stems from the same statute as driving under the influence. It is no surprise, then, that a conviction carries the same punishments as a DUI. A first offense is a misdemeanor, and you will face a jail sentence of 48 hours to six months in jail. A conviction also carries a 30-day suspension of your driver's license and a maximum fine of $1,000.
For a second conviction, you will face a jail sentence between 96 hours and one year. It's possible that some or all of that time is served on probation or house arrest. You will also face a driver's license suspension of two years and a maximum fine of $1,000.
A third conviction is also a misdemeanor under California law. It carries a minimum jail sentence of 120 days and a maximum sentence of 1 year. You will be required to serve at least 30 days of the sentence. A conviction also carries a $1,000 fine and a three-year suspension of your driving privileges.
Fourth and subsequent convictions are felonies in California. A felony conviction carries a prison sentence between 16 months and four years. What's more, you will face a maximum fine of $1,000 and a four-year revocation of your driver's license.
Legal Defense Strategies
Your defense attorney will have a number of avenues to pursue when preparing your defense. Many of the standard defenses in DUI trials are available to you. Additionally, it is also a valid defense to driving while addicted to a drug if you are in a licensed recovery program.
One of the most common defenses in these cases involves challenging the legitimacy of the traffic stop. For law enforcement to pull you over, they must have a reasonable suspicion that you are committing a traffic violation or other offense. If you are stopped illegally, and evidence collected during the stop cannot be used against you at trial. This includes statements you might have made during the arrest that can be used as evidence of your addiction to drugs.
A second defense involves simply refuting that you fit the definition of an addict under California law. The standard of what accounts as addiction is a subjective one that is decided by the jury. Your attorney may be able to convince the jurors that you were a prior drug user that was clean at the time of the arrest. Additionally, the California Supreme Court has drawn a distinction between addiction and habitual use. Frequent drug use does not count as an addiction if it is not due to a physical or emotional dependence.
Finally, California Vehicle Code § 23152(c) carves out an exception for drivers that are enrolled in a drug treatment program. If you are in a drug treatment program or rehabilitation facility recognized under California law, you are authorized to drive even if you might still meet the definition of an addict. It is highly recommended that you only drive while in possession of paperwork that proves you are enrolled in a treatment program or residential facility.
Hiring an Experienced L.A. County Defense Attorney
If you have been charged with driving while addicted to a drug in California, William S. Kroger Attorney at Law is ready to help. William S. Kroger is an aggressive advocate for his clients. He has the knowledge and experience to help you build a defense that will give you the best chance at a positive outcome. If you would like to discuss the merits of your case with one of the top defense attorneys in L.A. County, contact William S. Kroger Attorney at law to set up your free consultation.