Driving under the influence of drugs is illegal in California. It doesn't matter whether the drugs are illegal or legal. Under California law, drugs include substances impairing a person's drive other than alcohol. When you face a drug-related driving under the influence (DUI)charge, it is even driving after taking recreational drugs like cocaine, marijuana, meth, and LSD.

It can also mean that you were driving under the influence of prescription or over-the-counter medicine, provided this medicine impairs your ability to operate a motor vehicle. As you can see, you may end up facing DUID charges when you least expect it. As our Michele Ferroni Pasadena Criminal Attorney Law Firm attorneys will defend you, you do not have to worry if you or your loved one is facing a DUID charge in Pasadena. In this article, our lawyers will highlight some facts surrounding a DUID offense.

Understanding What It Means to Face DUID Charges in California

In California, DUI means driving or operating a vehicle under drugs or alcohol. It is illegal to drive while you have consumed drugs in California. If convicted of a DUI offense, you will pay hefty fines, lose your driving license, and even face jail time. Sometimes you can have other charges like drug possession added to your DUID charge. Additional charges will ensure your sentencing will be harsher.

If you face DUID charges, you will have violated California law under Vehicle Code 23152(a). You should always check your prescription or over-the-counter medicine to ensure you heed any warnings. If you find a warning label on these medications, it will not matter that you were taking them under doctor's orders as you can end up facing DUI charges if the law enforcement officers find you were impaired while driving.

Legal Definition of a Drug

When it comes to driving under the influence of drugs, the law defines a drug as any substance which is not alcohol that could affect a person's brain, nervous system, or muscles. This substance will impair a person's ability to drive or operate a motor vehicle which, under normal circumstances, a cautious person can use while applying reasonable care.

A drug under this context includes:

  • Legal drugs like marijuana.
  • Illegal drugs like heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine.
  • Prescription and over-the-counter medications like antihistamines.

Common Drugs That Can Lead to a Drug-Related DUI Charge in California

To face DUID charges, you must be impaired and not necessarily high. Some drugs that can achieve these are:

  • Cocaine,
  • Heroine,
  • Marijuana,
  • OxyContin,
  • Ambien,
  • Vicondin.

The law treats all medications that can affect your brain, muscles, and nervous system as drugs; it does not matter that they are necessary for your overall health.

Legal Limit For a Drug-Related DUI Charge

Unlike an alcohol-related DUI charge where the legal limit is 0.08, there is no legal limit for narcotics or drugs in California. Most experts disagree on the level of concentration of drugs in your system that would impair you from driving. Therefore, California under Vehicle Code makes it illegal to drive when:

  • You are intoxicated from drugs.
  • You are under a combination of alcohol and drugs.
  • If you are a drug addict, unless you are under medication for your addiction.

Drug-Related DUI Charge Arrest

When facing drug-related charges, the process will start when a police officer stops you if they suspect you are impaired. In cases where the police suspect that you are driving while intoxicated by drugs rather than alcohol, they may decide to test for alcohol content in your body.

The police officer can administer a preliminary alcohol test, where they will use a handheld device (breathalyzer) to screen you for alcohol in your body. If the test shows no alcohol content in your body and the police officer observes signs that indicate you are intoxicated. In that case, they can arrest you on suspicion of driving under the influence of drugs.

Some of the objective signs that will indicate you are under the influence of drugs include:

  • Watery eyes,
  • Rapid speech,
  • Red eyes,
  • Slurred speech,
  • Flushed face,
  • Profuse sweating,
  • Rapid pulse.

Additionally, the arresting officer will check your vehicle to see if you have any drug paraphernalia or drugs. After your arrest, the police officer will ensure you undertake urine or a blood test to show the type, presence, and amount of substance or drugs in your system. If the blood alcohol content (BAC) test shows that the alcohol level in your bloodstream is below the legal limit, although you still appear intoxicated, they will suspect you are using drugs.

Apart from these tests, the police officer may call on the services of a DRE to further evaluate you.

Drug Recognition Expert (DRE)

A DRE is an officer specially trained to determine the type of drug you have been taking. They also check for objective symptoms that indicate you are intoxicated and write their findings in a report attached to the arresting officer’s report. Although the evaluation by a DRE is crucial when determining if you are under the influence of drugs or narcotics, not all counties in California have these experts.  A DRE can discern the type of narcotics by checking their effects on your central nervous system. For instance, drugs like cocaine or meth stimulate your nervous system while others like antidepressants, marijuana, or heroin act as depressants.

For a DRE to determine if your impairment is due to narcotics in your bloodstream, they will do the following:

  • Confirm that your BAC does not exceed the legal limit.
  • Have a word with the arresting officer.
  • Check out for objective signs that indicate you are under the influence of narcotics, like checking the size of your pupils, your pulse rate, traces of the drugs in your nose or mouth, injection marks, and muscle tone, among others.
  • Conduct an eye or track exam to check for eye twitching, which can indicate drug use.
  • Carry out field sobriety tests comprising walking or turning, standing on one leg, and finger to nose test.
  • Check your pulse rate severally.
  • Ask you questions about drug use while noting your behavior as you answer them.
  • Come up with an idea of the type of drug that is triggering your reactions
  • Request that you take a DUI urine or blood test.

An evaluation by the DRE occurs in a controlled, well-lit area, like the police station, and not by the roadside. The reason for having a controlled area is to ensure that the environment is conducive for this evaluation. After the evaluation, the DRE will determine if the drugs are responsible for your impairment. They will also offer their opinion on the type of drugs causing your impairment.

Elements of A Drug-Related DUI Conviction

After your arrest, the prosecution has the duty of proving the following elements to ensure the court convicts you of a drug-related DUI charge under California VC section 23152. These elements are:


The prosecution will have to prove that you were driving a motor vehicle; the distance does not matter in this case. A motor vehicle can be a motorcycle, car, ATV, bus, motorized scooter, or dirt bike. The charges of a drug-related DUI do not include bicycles or anything that is human-powered. The law defines driving as the intentional and willful act of controlling and moving a vehicle from one point to another.

The prosecution can not hold a drug-related DUI charge against you if you only sit behind the vehicle's wheel. But for the law, the trial can use the act of sitting behind the wheel as circumstantial evidence, indicating that someone under the influence of narcotics had recently driven the car.


Apart from driving the motor vehicle, the prosecution has also to prove that you are under the influence of narcotics.  Intoxication or being under the influence of drugs means that substances impair your senses.  The law considers you impaired when the drugs in your system affect your ability to react, think, or move.

Under California VC 23152, the law does not indicate the minimum level of drugs like in the alcohol-related DUI case. The law considers you were driving under the influence of drugs when you can not drive a vehicle with caution like a sober person would.

When it comes to drug-related DUI, you do not necessarily have to be high. What matters is the fact that the drug's effect impairs your driving ability. You should note that you can have drug traces in your system, but if the medication does not affect your driving ability, you can not face drug-related DUI charges.

A Drug-Related DUI Trial

Under California VC 23152(e), a drug-related DUI trial starts when the arresting police officer attests to the reasons that led them to think they were impaired.

The Arresting Police Officer's Testimony

In California, a drug-related DUI charge starts when the arresting officer stops you if they notice that your driving is off. One indication that you were driving under the influence is when you drive without applying caution, which a sober driver would. The arresting officer will then attest to the court that you had symptoms indicating intoxication.

If the arresting officer used a breathalyzer and found your BAC below the legal limit, they can then say that your impairment must have been due to the use. The arresting officer will use this explanation as to the reason they used to invite the DRE to evaluate you further. In circumstances where no DRE is available, proving that you were driving under the influence of narcotics or drugs becomes harder. If the arresting officer had no prior training on drug recognition, your defense attorney could persuade the court to discount their testimony.

DRE Testimony

In a drug-related DUI case, a DRE testimony plays a crucial part. After proving their credentials, a DRE will then testify on three essential points:

  • Showing that BAC could not be responsible for your impairment.
  • Confirming that your impairment was due to intoxication and not a medical condition.
  • Determining the type and category of drug that caused your impairment.

A DRE will give a detailed report on their investigation during their testimony. Then explain what led to their conclusion on the type of drugs you had in your system.

Penalties For A Drug-Related DUI Conviction

California treats most DUID offenses as misdemeanors, but they can be charged as a felony when:

  • You commit a fourth offense.
  • You have a prior felony conviction of a DUI offense.
  • Your drugged state led to severe injuries or the death of another person.
  • It is your third DUI resulting in third-party injuries.

Under the law, drug-related DUI charges have the same penalties as alcohol-related DUI charges. However, the penalty for drug-related DUI differs from that of other drug misdemeanors. For instance, if a judge convicts you of a DUID, then you will be ineligible for probation for a non-violent drug crime unless the court dismisses your driving offenses.

DUID penalties rely on your criminal record or history. The sentencing in most DUID cases will vary depending on whether you have had any previous offenses. The law categorizes these penalties into:

First Offense

If you have no criminal record, the law under California VC sections 23152 and 23536 will treat your offense as a misdemeanor, and a conviction will result in the following sentencing:

  • Imprisonment ranging from 96 hours up to six months,
  • Informal probation,
  • Payment of fines ranging from $390 up to $1,000,
  • Suspension of your driver's license for a period that does not exceed six months.
  • Enrolling in a driving under the influence educational program.

Second Offense

For second offenses, your sentencing will be harsher. You will face second offenses charges if you have had a conviction for the following crimes within the last ten years:

  • DUI of drugs or alcohol,
  • Reckless driving,
  • A drug or alcohol-related DUI that resulted in injuries,

If you have one conviction in your record within the last ten years, meaning that the DUID conviction is your second offense, then the law will treat your offense as a misdemeanor. Your sentencing, in this case, will be as follows:

  • Imprisonment ranging from 90 days up to one year in county jail,
  • Informal probation,
  • Payment of fines that ranges from $390 up to $1,000,
  • Drivers license suspension for a period that does not exceed two years.
  • Enrolling in a driving under the influence education program.

Third Offense

The law will charge you with a third offense if you have had two convictions for the following crimes within the last ten years:

  • DUI of alcohol or drugs,
  • If your DUI offense resulted in the injuries,
  • Reckless driving,

If you have two prior convictions within the last ten years, meaning that the current charge is your third offense, the law will still treat your current charge as a misdemeanor. A conviction will lead to:

  • County jail imprisonment for a period ranging from 120 days but does not exceed one year.
  • Payment of fines ranging from $390 up to $1,000,
  • Informal probation,
  • Having the court suspend your driver's license for a period that does not exceed three years
  • DUI educational program enrollment.

Fourth and Subsequent Offenses

The law will charge you with a fourth or subsequent offense if you have had three or more convictions for the following crimes within the last ten years:

  • DUI of alcohol or drugs,
  • If your DUI offense resulted in the injuries,
  • Reckless driving.

If you have three or more prior convictions within the last ten years, the law will still treat your current charge as either felony or misdemeanor. A misdemeanor conviction will lead to:

  • Imprisonment ranges from 120 days but does not exceed one year in county jail.
  • Payment of fines ranging from $390 up to $1,000,
  • Informal probation,
  • Enrolling in a DUI educational program,
  • Having the court suspend your driver's license for a period that does not exceed four years

A felony conviction will result in:

  • Imprisonment that does not exceed three years in state prison,
  • Payment of fines ranging from $390 up to $1,000
  • Formal probation,
  • Having the court suspend your driver's license for a period that does not exceed four years
  • Enrollment in a driving under the influence educational program.

Additional Consequences of a DUID Conviction

Apart from the penalties discussed above, a DUID conviction can have other consequences like:

  • You may face other charges like possession, illegal use, and distribution of a controlled substance.
  • A drug-related DUI conviction can negatively affect your future employment, as the records are public and can come up during a background check even if your conviction was for a misdemeanor offense.
  • You may lose your motor vehicle insurance cover due to moving violations.
  • With a drug-related conviction, it will be difficult to venture into the legal, teaching, and medical professions.
  • A drug-related DUI will make it difficult to find work in fields that deal with controlled substances.
  • A drug-related DUI conviction will make it almost impossible to find work as a driver almost impossible.
  • A drug-related DUI conviction will harm your case if you have custody or divorce proceedings.

Possible Legal Defenses Against Driving Under the Influence of Drugs Charges

The law treats a drug-related DUI as a strict liability offense. Strict liability means that it does not matter if you had prior knowledge or criminal intent that you would drive around while intoxicated before driving under the influence of drugs.

With a DUID offense, the fact that you thought you were sober although you had knowingly taken a drug does not matter. You can be convicted of a drug-related DUI if you have medications in your bloodstream or are impaired. Therefore, it is crucial to come up with a good defense strategy that will have the court reduce or dismiss your charges altogether. These defense strategies include and are not limited to:

The Substance you Ingested was Not Legally a Drug

If you had legally ingested a substance that was not a drug, then the law can not convict you of a drug-related DUI offense. However, using this defense can be tricky as the definition of a drug in California is quite broad.  All you have to prove is that the substance you ingested could not impair your body or mind and, therefore, can not be used in drug-related DUI charges.

You were Sober

If you were not impaired, you could not then be guilty of a DUI of drugs charge. It does not matter that law enforcement officers found actual drugs or substances in your bloodstream. What matters, in this case, is that you had ingested pills, but the amount was insufficient to impair you. If you took drugs earlier and their impairing effects had worn off before driving, you are not guilty of a drug-related DUI offense.

For this defense strategy to work, you will need to challenge the result of the chemical drug and sobriety tests. Your defense attorneys will need to consult a pharmacological expert who will testify during the case on your behalf.

Your Impairment Was Not Brought By the Presence of Drugs in Your System

Sometimes you can have some traces of drugs in your system, but these traces are not responsible for your impairment. Your impairment can be due to other factors and not necessarily due to substances in your bloodstream.

For example, you may test positive when you take a chemical test for substances in your system like ephedrine. You may have taken this drug to treat your asthma, but when you drive recklessly, it is not because of drugs in your system but because you are suffering from an asthma attack.

You Were Not Driving The Vehicle

It is not unusual to have people in an accident leave their vehicles afterward, even when it is a case of driving under the influence. If several people are in the car, it may be challenging to know who was driving. Additionally, you can not be guilty of a drug-related DUI offense if you are sitting behind the wheel of a car without moving or driving the vehicle.

You can also not face DUI charges if you drove somewhere, stopped going, and then took drugs without causing or moving the vehicle again. You do not have to worry if law enforcement officers arrest you for being intoxicated if you were not driving the car when you were drunk, as there is no drug-related DUI offense.

Involuntary Intoxication

California treats a drug-related DUI as strict liability. Still, you can use involuntary intoxication as your defense if you did not take the drugs voluntarily or did not know that the medicines you ingested before driving were narcotics. Also, if you unknowingly consume drugs and then fall unconscious while driving, you can use involuntary intoxication as your defense.

Strategies Which Your Attorney  Can Use in Defending You

When facing a drug-related DUI charge, all the prosecution must prove are the DUI elements to ensure a conviction.  Your defense team may try to disprove these elements to ensure that the court dismisses your charges. Your lawyers can try to discredit the weakest part the prosecution uses against you.

Challenge The Tests

There are several tests that the DRE may use to determine if you are intoxicated, like blood, urine, and field tests. These tests are not foolproof or 100% accurate, and you can have contaminated tests, false positives, or even lab mix-ups. You can challenge these tests if you are arrested for a drug-related DUI while not under the influence.

Question The Government Officials' Misconduct

The prosecution and police must follow specific procedures while collecting evidence against you. If these government officials obtained their evidence against you improperly, your defense team could ensure that this evidence is inadmissible in a case against you in court.

Contact An Experienced Pasadena Criminal Lawyer Near Me

Drug-related DUI offenses carry long-lasting consequences, and if you or your loved one are facing these charges in Pasadena, CA, you will need to engage the services of an experienced attorney. You may be facing drug-related charges due to some unfortunate circumstances. Proving your innocence and having the court dismiss these charges should be your top-most priority. At Michele Ferroni Pasadena Criminal Attorney Law Firm, our attorneys clearly understand California drug laws and know the procedure the police and prosecution use while gathering evidence against you. We will use this knowledge to ensure you obtain the best possible outcome in your case. Feel free to call us at 626-628-0564 and schedule your first non-obligatory appointment with us.