According to the San Diego Tribune, drugged driving is on the increase, with nearly twice as many drivers in the state of California testing positive for drugs, as for alcohol. Further, nearly a third of all fatal crashes in the state of California included a driver who tested positive for a drug which impaired reaction times.
Although several other states have been able to set limits on THC levels in the blood (and 14 states have simply gone with zero-tolerance laws), the state of California is still struggling to find the proper “yardstick.” Several police agencies in the state of California are now using check swabs which test the saliva of a driver suspected of being under the influence of marijuana—or other drugs—however, this science is new, and relatively untested. After having two bills which focused on the amount of THC in a driver’s system die in committee, the issue essentially remains up in the air.
DUI vs. DWI
Many people still believe that “driving under the influence,” or “driving while impaired,” refers only to alcohol. In fact, any substance—legal, illegal or prescription—which alters your ability to drive in a safe manner, can result in San Diego DUI charges. The term DUI means you were driving under the influence, and has largely replaced the term DWI, which means you were driving while intoxicated. Much of the research regarding driving under the influence of marijuana has concluded it is not as detrimental as driving while drunk, however marijuana can still impair your ability to drive in a safe manner.
While Recreational Marijuana Use is Legal, Driving Under the Influence is Not
So, despite the fact that the recreational use of marijuana is legal in the state of California, it remains illegal to drive if your marijuana use has impaired your driving ability. Determining whether your ability to drive has been impaired, however, is a very subjective issue.
Unlike drinking alcohol, where a breathalyzer test can back up the police officer’s observations of impaired driving, there is no such test for marijuana use. Even if you undergo a blood test after using marijuana, the test will only prove you have used marijuana in the past, but will not determine whether your cognitive functions have been impaired at this moment.
Prosecutors Face a Battle When Proving Impairment for Those Charged with Marijuana DUI
Because of this, you could be totally innocent of impaired driving, yet end up being charged with San Diego marijuana DUI charges, which are extremely serious. Under California Vehicle Code §23152, it is illegal to drive while you are under the influence of marijuana, addicted to a drug, but not currently involved in an approved treatment program, or driving under the influence of marijuana and alcohol or another drug.
In other words, to convict you of San Diego marijuana DUI charges, the prosecution is required to show you recently consumed marijuana, and that consumption prevented you from driving in a careful, cautious manner—the same manner as a sober person would drive. Alternatively, the prosecution would be required to show you are “emotionally and chemically addicted to marijuana.”
Unlike a DUI for alcohol consumption, there is no specific amount of marijuana in your system which will absolutely establish you were impaired. Therefore, the police officer who arrested you will be required to show the following:
- Your manner of speech was incoherent, or you made incoherent statements to the police officer;
- Your eyes were red or bloodshot;
- You were unable to “pass” standard field sobriety tests;
- You were clearly driving erratically;
- The officer could smell marijuana on you;
- Your pupils were dilated;
- The officer sees marijuana or marijuana paraphernalia in your vehicle;
- Your reaction time is obviously impaired, or
- The police officer observed you exhibiting rapid breathing or you had an extremely rapid heartbeat.
There are police officers in the state of California, known as DRE’s or Drug Recognition Experts who are specially trained in the recognition of drug impairment.
Penalties Associated with a Conviction for Marijuana DUI
If you are convicted of a first-time San Diego marijuana DUI charge, you could spend from 96 hours to six months in a San Diego County Jail, be assessed a fine up to $1,000, and could have your driver’s license suspended for up to six months. In some instances, you will be required to install an ignition interlock device on your vehicle for a specified period of time. A second conviction for marijuana DUI charges could increase the jail time from 90 days to one year, with similar fines and a driver’s license suspension lasting up to two years, if your second offense is within seven years of the first conviction. As with a first-time conviction, you could be required to have an ignition interlock device on your vehicle when you have a driver’s license again.
For a third marijuana DUI conviction, you could spend from 120 days to one year in jail, pay a fine of up to $1,000, and could either face a longer driver’s license suspension, or you could have your driving privileges entirely revoked. Fourth and subsequent convictions on San Diego marijuana DUI charges have largely the same punishments, and for most marijuana DUI convictions you will also be required to complete a drug treatment program and/or a Driving Under the Influence Rehabilitation Course.
As you can see, the criminal penalties for San Diego marijuana DUI charges are fairly extensive, however there are additional consequences of a marijuana DUI conviction. You can find it is now difficult to secure housing, since many rent applications require a background check. You could lose the job you currently have, and that conviction can become a stumbling block to finding employment in the future. If you planned on attending college under a governmental student loan, you may find that is no longer an option, and if you were working toward a professional license of any kind, that license may now be only an out-of-reach dream. Finally, if you are currently negotiating a custody agreement—or may do so in the future—a marijuana DUI conviction may count against you in those proceedings.
Defenses for San Diego Marijuana DUI Charges
As noted, testing positive for marijuana in a chemical test offers no proof of impairment. Typically, a marijuana “high” only lasts from three-five hours, therefore the prosecutor must show—beyond a reasonable doubt—you were driving while impaired. While your lawyer will take into account the specific circumstances surrounding your marijuana DUI charges, there are a number of defenses which may be implemented, such as:
- There was no probable cause for the officer to pull you over;
- There was no probable cause for the officer to arrest you;
- There was no warrant in place prior to your having your blood draw without your consent;
- The test results were a false positive;
- The police officer did not follow proper procedure;
- The DRE officer’s evidence was biased;
- Despite using marijuana, your driving abilities were not impaired;
- You were not “high” while behind the wheel, or
- The officer failed to advise you of your Miranda rights.
Call a San Diego Marijuana DUI Attorney Today
If you are charged with driving under the influence of marijuana, it is critical that you contact an experienced San Diego criminal defense attorney immediately. Having an attorney by your side who is familiar with the laws surrounding the use of marijuana use while driving, and can ensure your rights are properly protected throughout the process.